What factors contribute to an increased risk of cancer?

Cancer Risk: What do you need to pay attention to?

August, 2022 - Last update: July, 2024

Cancer affects a significant number of people worldwide. Did you know that you can reduce your chances of developing cancer through proactive health measures? So, taking control of your health and habits can significantly impact your well-being. Your actions today can influence your future health outcomes. Learn below about some topics that can increase cancer risk.

What factors contribute to an increased risk of cancer?
What factors contribute to an increased risk of cancer?

What factors contribute to an increased cancer risk?


Alcohol increases the risk of cancer by damaging the body’s cells. This damage can lead to alterations in the cell’s DNA, thereby increasing the likelihood of developing tumors. So, when the body metabolizes alcohol, it converts it into a chemical known as acetaldehyde. Although acetaldehyde is quickly further metabolized into a safer substance, its temporary presence in the body can cause harm.

The liver predominantly breaks down alcohol, making it highly susceptible to alcohol-related damage. However, alcohol metabolism also occurs in the pancreas, gastrointestinal tract, brain, and other tissues, where acetaldehyde can inflict damage.


When tobacco smoke is inhaled, it allows chemicals and substances such as tar and formaldehyde to enter lung cells, causing DNA damage. This damage affects cell growth and division, potentially leading to tumor development if cell growth becomes uncontrolled.

So, tobacco use increases the risk of developing various cancers, including lung, larynx, mouth, esophagus, throat, kidney, liver, and stomach cancers. Even smokeless tobacco products like chewing tobacco can elevate the risk of oral and esophageal cancers. The harmful chemicals in tobacco damage the body’s DNA, thereby increasing the likelihood of cancer development.


Individuals are more likely to develop cancer as they age. Based on the research done by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the median age to be diagnosed with cancer is 66. This means that half the diagnosis for cancer occurs over the age of 66. As we age, our body accumulates toxic chemicals from the environment around us, like pollution and radiation.

This can harm the DNA in our body and lead to mutations. Moreover, as we age our body accumulates DNA mutations as errors can happen during cell division. The more mutations that occur, the more likely that one of those mutations can be cancer-causing. These mutations can occur in genes involved with cell growth and division, thus making us more susceptible to cancer development.

Cancer risk can be related with Family history

Cancer can be genetic as mutations of genes associated with cancer can be passed down. This is why it is important to learn about your family’s history to see if you have anything to worry about. Many cancers run in families, the most common being ovarian cancer, breast cancer and colorectal cancer. You should inform your doctor if your family has a history of cancer and other conditions so you can assess the next steps to help screen for potential cancers.

Radiation & Sunlight

Ionizing radiation has the ability to damage DNA and therefore, cause cancer. Ionizing radiation is emitted by X-ray machines, CT scan machines and PET scan machines. However, the radiation is very minimal from these machines and is considered safe. The dangerous ionizing radiation can come from accidents at nuclear power plants or from atomic weapons.

Sunlight emits ultraviolet (UV) radiation. These radiation waves are incredibly strong and can cause mutations in our DNA. UV radiation can cause aging and skin cancer if DNA damage occurs. It is encouraged that everyone wears sunscreen every day to protect the skin from these harmful radiation waves. UV radiation can also be reflected by surfaces like water and snow, therefore, it is important to limit your time in the sun.

How cancer risk is linked with obesity?

Obesity contributes to the development of several types of cancers such as prostate, breast, uterine, colon, gallbladder, liver, and kidney cancers. Then, this occurs because obese individuals have elevated levels of insulin, insulin-like growth factor, and estrogen (a sex hormone). These hormones naturally occur in varying amounts in all individuals. However, insulin stimulates cell production. Excessive insulin levels increase cell production, making DNA errors more likely.

Additionally, obesity is associated with higher levels of inflammation. In conclusion, Chronic inflammation can lead to DNA damage, contributing to tumour development.

Read some materials related with the topics that can increase cancer risk:

Risk Factors for Cancer – NCI
How Tobacco Causes Cancer | Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
Age and cancer | Cancer Research UK
Family Health History and Cancer | CDC
Obesity and Cancer Fact Sheet – NCI
How Does Obesity Cause Cancer? – PMC (nih.gov)

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