The real reason why people develop cancer is yet to be known. But we do know some of the things that cause or influence the risk of developing cancer.
You can reduce the risk of getting cancer by making positive lifestyle choices. Abstaining from smoking, eating a healthy diet and keeping physically active are some of the ways you can do this.
But there are some of risk factors you cannot control, age being one of them. Generally, people above 60 years of age are more likely to develop cancer than younger people (those under 50). But this doesn’t necessarily mean that younger people don’t stand the chance of getting cancer.
Cancer develop because of plenty of factors, many of which we cannot even control. This makes checking your body and taking part in cancer screening programs really important. Your general physician can give you more information about it. But remember having a particular risk factor doesn’t mean you will ‘definitely’ get cancer.
Let’s talk of each risk factor in a little detail:
• Smoking will greatly increase your risk of getting lung cancer. About 9 out of 10 people who develop lung cancer are smokers. But not everyone who smokes will develop cancer.
• Cancer is very common and most of us have relatives who have had cancer. People often worry that a history of cancer in their family greatly increases their risk of developing it. But as few as 3 in 10 cancers are associated with a strong family history of cancer.
• One of the biggest risk factor is increasing age. Cancer can occur at any age but the risk of developing cancer increases as we get older. More than three out of five people who get cancer are over the age of 65 and more than a third are over 70.
• Other lifestyle risk factors can play an important role in the development of cancer. Around 4 in 10 cancers in Tanzania could be prevented by lifestyle changes.
However, making these changes doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get cancer at some point in life but they will make it less likely and will improve your general health.
What can you do
• If you smoke, giving up is the single most important thing you can do for your good health. Although data are yet to be actualised in Tanzania, more than 1 in 5 cancer deaths are linked to smoking. Smoking increases the risk of many cancers including cancer of the mouth, throat, lung, bladder, kidney, pancreas, bowel, stomach and cervix.
Breathing in other people’s smoke (passive smoking) also increases your risk of developing cancer. If you are worried about passive smoking, talk to your doctor. Help is available if you need to quit smoking.
• A healthy diet can reduce several factors of cancer too. Particularly bowel cancer. It can also lower your risk of other health problems such as heart diseases and diabetes.
You should eat foods that are high in fibre, such as whole grain bread and pasta, beans and oatmeal. Try to eat five portions of fruits and vegetables every day.
Limiting how much salt, red meat and processed meat you eat is also important.