We offer information, support, advice and referral to specialist services about your type of cancer as well as information on a wide range of cancer topics including support and counselling for you and your family. For questions about cancer or help, contact our health nurse or care coordinator for more information.
How Cancer Arises
Cancer is a genetic disease—that is, it is caused by changes to genes that control the way our cells function, especially how they grow and divide.
Genetic changes that cause cancer can be inherited from our parents. They can also arise during a person’s lifetime as a result of errors that occur as cells divide or because of damage to DNA caused by certain environmental exposures. Cancer-causing environmental exposures include substances, such as the chemicals in tobacco smoke, and radiation, such as ultraviolet rays from the sun. (Our Cancer Causes and Risk Factors page has more information.)
Each person’s cancer has a unique combination of genetic changes. As the cancer continues to grow, additional changes will occur. Even within the same tumor, different cells may have different genetic changes. In general, cancer cells have more genetic changes, such as mutations in DNA, than normal cells. Some of these changes may have nothing to do with the cancer; they may be the result of the cancer, rather than its cause National Cancer Institute (NIH).
Risk Factors for Cancer
It is usually not possible to know exactly why one person develops cancer and another doesn’t. But research has shown that certain risk
factors may increase a person’s chances of developing cancer. (There are also factors that are linked to a lower risk of cancer. These are sometimes called protective risk factors, or just protective factors.)
Cancer risk factors include exposure to chemicals or other substances, as well as certain behaviors. They also include things people cannot control, like age and family history. A family history of certain cancers can be a sign of a possible inherited cancer syndrome. Most cancer risk (and protective) factors are initially identified in epidemiology studies. In these studies, scientists look at large groups of people and compare those who develop cancer with those who don’t. These studies may show that the people who develop cancer are more or less likely to behave in certain ways or to be exposed to certain substances than those who do not develop cancer.
Learn Ways to Reduce Your Risk
The list below includes the most-studied known or suspected risk factors for cancer. Although some of these risk factors can be avoided, others—such as growing older—cannot. Limiting your exposure to avoidable risk factors may lower your risk of developing certain cancers.
- Cancer-Causing Substances
- Chronic Inflammation
- Infectious Agents
Checking for cancer (or for conditions that may become cancer) in people who have no symptoms is called screening. Screening can help doctors find and treat several types of cancer early. Early detection is important because when abnormal tissue or cancer is found early, it may be easier to treat. By the time symptoms appear, cancer may have begun to spread and is harder to treat. Several screening tests have been shown to detect cancer early and to reduce the chance of dying from that cancer. These tests are described as Screening Tests.
But it is important to keep in mind that screening tests can have potential harms as well as benefits. Some screening tests may cause bleeding or other health problems. It can be helpful for people to discuss the potential harms as well as benefits of different cancer screening tests with their doctors.
If you are concerned about cancer or would like more information about cancer or help, contact our health nurse or care coordinator or your General Practitioner for more information.
You can also find additional information on the Cancer Council website at http://www.cancertas.org.au/