Monday, 12 December 2016

What Causes Cancer?

Hello everyone,

Cancer is a scary word. Many people don't like to talk about it because it scares them or they see it as a depressing subject. This means not everyone understands what cancer is. Today's post will discuss this subject in further detail.

Fundamentally cancer is caused by damaged or faulty genes. Genes tell our cells what to do. Genes are encoded within our DNA so anything can can damage DNA can increase the risk of cancer. However several genes in the same cell will need to be damaged before it leads to cancer.

Most cancers will develop after DNA damage accumulates over a person's lifetime. Cancers like my cousin Georgie's; directly caused by a specific gene fault inherited from a parent are very rare. However everyone has a subtle difference in a our genes that may slightly increase or decrease our chances of getting cancer.

Cancer isn't just caused by our genes. Our lifestyles play a huge part too. Nobody can change their genetic makeup but we all can take important steps to reduce the risk of developing cancer.

Other Lifestyle Choices To Consider:
Age- The single biggest risk factor for cancer. As you get older, your chances of developing cancer increase. Nearly 2/3 cancer cases in the UK are occurring in people over sixty five. Obviously this is because as we age, we accumulate more cancer causing faults in our DNA. People live much long nowadays which means our chances of picking up these cancer causing faults are increasing.

Lifestyle- Nearly half of all cancers can be prevented by changes to lifestyle. There are many ways we can try and lessen our risk of cancer:
* Giving Up Smoking
* Being responsible in the sun
* Eating a balanced diet
* Limiting alcohol
* Regular exercise
* Having a healthy body weight

Carcinogens- This literally translates as "something that causes cancer" They can damage DNA and cause damage to important genes which will lead to cancer. Examples of common carcinogens are:
* Tobacco
* Car exhaust fumes
* Air pollution
* The sun
* Radiation (both natural and man made) for example X-Rays
* Asbestos

Please don't think carcinogens are the only cause of cancer, in most cases they are a contributing factor and are joined by a number of other factors.

Inherited Fault Genes- This is the factor I am most familiar with. Some people, like the relatives I have lost, are born with a gene containing a fault. This doesn't guarantee them a battle with cancer but it does mean fewer things need to go wrong with their DNA for the disease to develop. They are more vulnerable to the disease. They have a higher risk. People with a strong family history of cancer can be genetically tested. It is incredibly important.  As a family we really do believe more people need to be genetically tested.

Viruses- There are some viruses that can be linked to some types of cancer. Don't confuse a virus with an infection - cancer is not contagious - you cannot catch it from someone else. some examples of these viruses are:
* Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is a major cause of cervical cancer
*Hepatitis B and C can cause primary liver cancer
*Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) has been linked to several cancers. This is because it weakens the immune system.

These factors do not automatically lead to cancer. Some people can be exposed to many of the above and not be affected by cancer. However, they are causes of the disease and I think people should be aware of them.

I hope this has been informative - if you have any questions please check the Cancer Research UK website, or if you are worried about cancer, please contact your doctor ASAP


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