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The cause of most cancers is unknown. However some things are known to increase the risk of developing cancer. You can lower your risk by reducing your exposure to substances known to cause cancer and by leading a healthier lifestyle. This doesn’t guarantee that you won’t develop cancer - but it can help reduce your risk.
If a risk factor applies to you, this doesn’t mean you will develop cancer. It just means you are at greater risk. For example, a smoker is more likely to get lung cancer than a non-smoker. However you are not protected from having lung cancer by being a non-smoker.
Some people inherit particular genes from their parents which can increase their risk of developing certain cancers. In a minority of cases exposure to a virus may increase the risk of developing certain types of cancer.
Major risk factors that increase your risk of developing cancer include age, environmental and lifestyle factors.
AgeCancers are more common as you get older as the likelihood of genes being damaged increases, the longer you live. So if you notice any of the symptoms mentioned later, it is particularly important to follow them up promptly with your GP.
Certain chemicals used in the workplace can also increase your risk of developing cancer, so it is important to follow health and safety regulations designed to minimise the risk of overexposure to these known carcinogens.
SmokingThis increases your risk of developing not just lung cancer but over a dozen other cancers. Your risk is affected by how many cigarettes you smoke and how many years you’ve smoked. While giving up is the ideal, cutting down is worthwhile too. You can speak to your GP or practice nurse, look on the NHS Smokefree website or call their helpline, to find out how the NHS can help you give up.
Excessive exposure to the sunThis increases your risk of developing all types of skin cancer. You can reduce your risk by:
DietDiet is thought to affect the risk of different cancers including bowel cancer. You can reduce your risk by:
ExerciseRegular exercise – something gentle such as walking, cycling or swimming – can help reduce your risk
Excessive alcohol consumptionThis is linked to increased risk of several cancers including mouth, throat, liver and breast cancer.
VirusesThere are several virus’ thought to increase the risk of developing some cancers. An example is the link identified between the human papilloma virus (HPV) and cervical cancer. However it’s important to remember that cancer itself is not infectious.
Inherited factorsIf several members of your family have had cancer, you may worry whether this increases your risk. In fact only a small number of certain cancers are caused by an inherited faulty gene. In the case of breast cancer, less than 5% of breast cancer cases are due to faulty genes.
It is only likely that there is an inherited defective gene in your family if:
If you are concerned, you may like to discuss your family history with your GP.
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