Can cancer be prevented?
Cancer often develops slowly. That’s why preventing cancer demands perseverance and an ability to think about your own future far in advance.
Getting cancer is a tragedy for yourself and your loved ones that for a while brings your life to a standstill. Why me, why me? Why now? Will I make it, will they?
But cancer is a surprisingly common disease. One in three of us get it at some stage in life.
Cancer is above all a disease of ageing, and in Finland the numbers of cancer cases are increasing steadily.
The prevalence of cancer is not only down to ageing but also to the lifestyles we lead. The prevalence of lung cancer, for instance, is the result of people’s smoking habits a few decades ago. And over 90 per cent of cases of skin cancer would be prevented if people spent time in the sun moderately and responsibly.
Cancer develops from a genetic abnormality
Cancer develops when the genetic material in a cell gets damaged. Genetic material – genes – governs cell growth. If a gene is damaged, the cell may start to grow uncontrollably. Cell abnormalities are by no means all due to cancer and our bodies’ defence mechanism knows how to correct them.
But these corrective mechanisms do not always work. Cancer is a malignant tumour comprising cells that won’t die.
Mutations in genes may be due to chance or to exposure to a cancer-causing substance, a carcinogen. Carcinogens include such things as agents in tobacco smoke, the ethanol in alcohol, and some papilloma viruses.
”Preventing cancer demands perseverance.”
Cancer usually develops slowly. Years may pass, even decades, after abnormalities occur in a cell before cancer becomes detectable.
That’s why it is important not to give up following a healthy way of life. Cancer can be prevented, but the results are not immediately apparent. Preventing cancer demands perseverance and an ability to think about your own future far in advance. By living healthily now we can ensure we have many years of good health when we are older.
Find out more about how cancer comes about and what causes it on the All about cancer website
Chance or consequence?
With a single case of cancer it’s almost impossible to say with certainty what has caused it.
But in the same breath we could say that the choices we make can reduce the chances of getting cancer. For instance, up to 90 per cent of cases of lung cancer are due to smoking.
Smoking is the most obvious and important single factor that increases the risk of cancer. Other aspects of lifestyle are also highly significant. According to expert assessments, up to 40 per cent of cancer cases could be prevented by healthy lifestyle choices.
A game of cards is a good image for the significance of lifestyles. We never know what card we will pick from the pack, but by living healthily we can cut down the number of bad cards in the deck.
Is cancer inherited?
The issue of cancer and genetics is a source of worry for many people. Such fears intensify if several of our close relatives have had cancer. It’s more likely, however, that the cancer you have is not inherited. According to current estimates, one in ten cases of cancer is linked to genetic factors.
Find out more about cancer and genetics on the All about cancer website.
Am I preventing cancer or promoting my health?
Preventing cancer is not a separate sphere or objective in life. Many of the same rules that apply to cancer prevention are also essential for reducing the risk of other common diseases. Not smoking, eating healthily, and avoiding alcohol reduce not just the risk of cancer but of such things as cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes.
By preventing cancer you are furthering your health in many other respects. And you are increasing your wellbeing and ability to cope now in your day-to-day life.
Joensuu H, Roberts PJ, Kellokumpu-Lehtinen P-L, Jyrkkiö S, Kouri M, Teppo L, (2013) (toim.) Syöpätaudit. Helsinki: Kustannus Oy Duodecim.