Cancer and its causes

The more you know about cancer, the better placed you are to cope with it

Cancer will affect most of us during our lives, either directly or indirectly. By improving our understanding of cancer, we become better placed to make lifestyle choices and take precautions which can reduce our cancer risk.

Everyone should be aware of symptoms for early detection and, for those diagnosed, understanding common treatment methods, side effects and common questions to ask your doctor can make a huge impact on how you navigate through your cancer experience. Knowledge and understanding can decrease fear and empower you to make the best possible choices for your health and well-being.

Research globally points to four types of cancer-causing factors:

  • Environmental factors: This includes contamination of the air, water, and food; overexposure to the sun; and long-term contact with chemicals such as asbestos.
  • Lifestyle factors: Including smoking, heavy drinking, poor diet, lack of exercises and stress.
  • Hormones: Our natural hormone levels change across our lifetime, especially for women. Drinking alcohol, being overweight (especially after menopause) and medication such as birth control and hormone replacement therapies can affect hormone level changes and increase cancer risk.
  • Hereditary factors: Genetics, including any potential faults, you inherit from your parents can impact your risk of cancer. Family history depends on whether your relatives had the same or related types of cancer, and whether they were diagnosed at a younger age (before 40). For example, people who have family members with breast or colorectal cancer may have a higher risk of developing that cancer According to Cancer Research UK (2016), genetics specialists estimate that only about 2-3% of cancers diagnosed are linked to an inherited genetic fault.
  • Viruses: Some viruses can induce cancer. For example, the sexually-transmitted disease, Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), is cited as causing almost all cases of cervical cancer in women.


Cancer is not infectious – it cannot be passed on to people you come in contact with.


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