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Overview: Causes of Cancer

Jessica Evert, MD, edited by Benjamin McDonald, MD Updated: Jun 28th 2016

The causes of cancer are not fully understood, but years of research have brought to light risk factors that increase people's chances of getting particular types of cancer. Some of these risk factors are inevitable, while others can be avoided by choosing to live a healthy lifestyle. For example, smoking cigarettes is an avoidable risk factor. Changing your lifestyle to get rid of unhealthy choices such as smoking can be difficult to accomplish (tobacco is an addictive drug and stopping smoking means beating that addiction), but the rewards are real. Stopping smoking and similar healthy lifestyle changes will not ensure that you never get cancer, but they will reduce your cancer risk. This is true whether you have never had cancer before, or if you have previously beaten cancer and are wondering what you can do to reduce your chances of relapse.

It is important to note that cancer is not a uniform illness, but rather has many forms. Each specific type of cancer is different and consequently has a different set of associated risk factors. Detailed information on specific risk factors for specific types of cancer are found in our cancer subtype documents.


    Reader Comments
    Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

    you fail to realize the miracle - - Sep 6th 2008

    You said that you ate the right foods and read labels, and you still got cancer. You also said that it is a slow growing cancer; well please realize that by you eating right and staying healthy this caused the cancer to GROW SLOWER. That is the miracle, doctor missed it and you are still here. Cancer cannot survive or grow in a healthy environment that's why the cancer grew slow. If you had been unhealthly you would not be alive to tell your story. So, when you laugh, laugh with great joy because mircles still happens.


    Keep reading labels

    i laugh - - Feb 19th 2007


    i'm 50 yrs old and now laugh when i read or hear about cancer causing agents and substances, and how not eating certain food types can reduce your chances of getting cancer.  Over the years i was constantly on the lookout for any info that may prevent me from getting cancer,and as i found out info, i followed it accordingly to "help"prevent cancer.

    Well guess what, i ate all the right foods i gave away consuming all the suspect products, and still got it, not only did i end up with cancer, it was missed by over 5 doctors when i was growing up. I complained of pains in the same region for over 20 years, eventually[3 yrs ago] tumours we discovered .So much for research.

    The good news is if they weren't slow growing i would've been dead overnight. The bad news is if they had of been fast growing, they would have been detected sooner. I GUESS THE PLAN WAS IN PLACE FOR ME AND THERE WAS NOTHING I COULD DO ABOUT IT. Now i just laugh :) 

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