Understanding Cancer

Cancer is a general term that represents a wide range of different conditions in the body. Cancers can have different characteristics, locations, and treatments, but they all represent uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells. Cancer starts out as a single cell that turns into an abnormal cell, possibly from genetic and environmental influences, then grows beyond typical boundaries by replicating at unusually high rates. Cancer cells can invade and destroy nearby tissues or spread to any part of the body via the blood or lymph.

In 2018, there were 17 million new cases of cancer globally and 9.6 million deaths. Cancer represents the second leading cause of death in the U.S. and globally, behind only cardiovascular disease. The estimated total annual economic cost of cancer in 2010 was $1.16 trillion. Around 1/3 of deaths from cancer are attributed to lifestyle-associated issues, such poor diet or having an unhealthy body weight.

Currently there is no cure for cancer, though many treatment possibilities are being explored. Common treatment options include medicine, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery, dietary changes, or a combination of the above.

Risk Factors for Cancer

Though the exact cause of cancer is not yet known, several possible risk factors for cancer have been identified. These risk factors may act alone or together to contribute to the occurrence of cancer, though they may not necessarily be the cause of cancer. Lifestyle characteristics that may contribute to cancer risk – such as diet, physical activity, and tobacco use – are usually the most manageable.

These lifestyle risk factors may increase the risk of cancer:

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Consuming a diet high in processed foods
  • Inadequate physical activity
  • Using tobacco products
  • Drinking more alcohol than is recommended
  • Having infections such as hepatitis and human papilloma virus (HPV)
  • Being exposed to environmental pollution in air, water, and soil or occupational carcinogens such as asbestos
  • Being exposed to high levels of radiation (ultraviolet (UV), radon gas)

Knowing and avoiding cancer risk factors may help prevent its occurrence and help speed recovery during treatment.

For more information about the effects of lifestyle choices and diet on cancer, check out Diet and Cancer Prevention: https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/nutrition-food-safety-health/diet-and-cancer-prevention-9-313/.

Did You Know?

One-third of all cancer deaths are preventable. Regular physical activity, maintenance of a healthy body weight, and a healthy diet can considerably reduce cancer risk.