What can increase cancer risk?


can increase the risk of cancer because it can damage your body’s cells. These damages can lead to changes in the cell’s DNA, thus leading to an increased risk for tumour development. When the body consumes alcohol, it breaks it down into a chemical called acetaldehyde. Although acetaldehyde is quickly further broken down into a much safer substance, its temporary time in the body can cause damage.

Alcohol is broken down predominantly in the liver, which is why your liver is very susceptible to damage from alcohol. However, some alcohol is broken down in the pancreas, the gastrointestinal tract, brain and other tissues. Acetaldehyde can cause damage to these tissues as well.


When tobacco smoke is inhaled, chemicals and substances like tar and formaldehyde are able to pass into the body’s lung cells and cause DNA damage. Damage to the DNA within a cell can affect cell growth and division. This can lead to the development of a tumour if cell growth becomes uncontrollable.

Tobacco use can increase the risk of developing several different cancers including, lung, larynx, mouth, esophagus, throat, kidney, liver, and stomach. Even smokeless tobacco (like chewing tobacco) can increase the risk of oral and esophageal cancers. The harmful chemicals in tobacco can cause damage to the body’s DNA, thus increasing the chance of developing cancer.


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.

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.


Obesity has been linked to the development of several types of cancers such as prostate, breast, uterine, colon, gallbladder, liver and kidney cancers. This is because in obese individuals there is an increased amount of insulin, insulin-like growth factor and estrogen (a sex hormone). These hormones exist naturally in all individuals in various amounts. However, insulin promotes cell production. With too much insulin, cell production will be increased and thus it will be more likely for DNA errors to occur. Obese individuals also have more inflammation. Chronic inflammation can also cause DNA damage and thus lead to the development of a tumour.


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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