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Can We Avoid Cancer?

Alicia Betz
July 8, 2021

Cancer is unfortunately ubiquitous. It is estimated that almost 40% of people will be diagnosed with cancer during their lifetime. So, can we avoid this devastating and debilitating disease? 

Research shows that we can certainly try. Almost one in five cancers are caused by lifestyle factors that we can change: excess body weight, alcohol consumption, poor diet, tobacco use, infection, and sedentary lifestyle. 

The good news is that we can work toward reducing these risk factors in our lives. Additionally, we can attempt to control environmental factors that cause cancer.


Cancer Risk Factors

Much of our cancer risk is within our control. A small percentage of our risk is determined by genetics, but the larger portion is determined by our environment and our actions. 

As previously stated, some of the most prominent preventable risk factors include using tobacco, eating a poor diet, having excess body weight, and remaining sedentary. Another risk factor, infection, can be largely prevented via vaccines. Smaller yet still important risk factors you can control include environmental pollution, sun exposure, radiation, food additives, pesticides, stress, and drugs.

cancer health

Environmental Carcinogens

When we think of environmental pollution or carcinogens, we typically picture large cities full of smog. This, however, is not the only way to be exposed to environmental carcinogens, and many of the offenders are found within your own home. In fact, studies have shown that indoor air quality tends to be worse than outdoor air quality. When you know what these carcinogens are, you can take steps to reduce your exposure to them.

Researchers have found a link between environmental pollution and at least ten cancers, including leukemia, lung cancer, and bladder cancer. Some common sources of indoor air pollution include formaldehyde, which can come from pressed wood products or fuel-burning appliances, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can come from paint or craft supplies, for example. 

Outdoor air pollution can of course be dangerous as well and has been linked to an increased risk of lung cancer. Additionally, car exhaust releases formaldehyde and has been linked to an increased risk of childhood leukemia.

Another type of carcinogen that comes from the environment around you may be in your drinking water. Chlorine and nitrates in drinking water have been linked to cancer as well.  

Other items that you put in or on your body can also increase your risk of developing cancer. Pesticides, certain medications, and ingredients in makeup have been linked to cancer. 

Two recent and prominent examples include Zantac, a heartburn drug linked to cancer, and paraquat, a weedkiller linked to both cancer and Parkinson’s Disease. People who have been affected by these defective products have taken action by filing lawsuits against the manufacturers. In these cases, the consumers were not aware of the dangers of the products.

Reducing Cancer Rates

With many other environmental carcinogens, however, the general public is aware of the danger. Most of us have heard that we should avoid VOCs, we need to wear sunscreen, and we shouldn’t inhale car exhaust. 

As an individual, one of the best things you can do to reduce your personal cancer risk is to mitigate your risk factors. Eat a healthy diet, exercise, refrain from using tobacco, and avoid known carcinogens in your environment. Let new furniture off-gas outside before you bring it into your home. Limit food and drinks that contain additives. Try meditation or exercise to help limit your stress. 

cancer health

On the other hand, other factors are less in our control. For example, if you took Zantac—a popular and seemingly innocuous drug—you couldn’t have known that it was increasing your cancer risk. For reasons like this, perhaps more research needs to be done before new drugs hit the market. 

Another way to potentially reduce cancer rates as a whole would be for governing bodies to impose more regulations when it comes to chemicals and additives that are allowed in food, drinks, makeup, and drugs. Campaigns that focus on promoting healthy living and carcinogen awareness would be helpful as well.

Have Cancer Rates Risen?

All of these environmental factors that only seem to become more present over time would lead us to believe the overall rate of cancer has increased over time. 

In fact, the absolute incidence of cancer has risen over the past few decades. The reason for the increase, however, is largely due to an aging population and a rise in risk factors such as obesity. When you examine the percentage of the population diagnosed with cancer, particularly when adjusted for age, the incidence remains relatively stable. 

This trend is expected to continue. In 2018, there were 17 million new cancer diagnoses, and that number is projected to be 27.5 million in 2040. Although this seems like a large increase, this number is mainly due to how the population will age. It’s possible that continued unhealthy lifestyles may make this worse. 

One group that has seen an increased cancer rate since 1973 is adolescents and young adults. Between 1973 and 2015, researchers found an increased incidence of almost 30%. 

One uplifting statistic is the cancer death rate, which has fallen 31% since 1991. This means that about the same number of people are getting cancer, but fewer of them die from the disease. This is largely due to advances in medicine as well as early detection.


Where to Go from Here

According to the American Cancer Society, about 42% of cancer cases are preventable. Cancer is a devastating disease, but it is not one where you need to submit and accept your fate. When you are informed and know the risk factors, you can take daily steps to reduce your risk and exposure to carcinogens.


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We are here to help you and loved ones advocate for justice. Feel free to send us any questions you might have, either about an injury or the process for pursuing justice so we can help you exercise your rights.

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