Cancer risks linked to unhealthy lifestyles include smoking, poor diet, physical inactivity, and excessive alcohol consumption.
Tobacco smoke contains over 7,000 chemicals, with at least 250 known to be harmful and more than 50 recognized as carcinogens. When inhaled, these chemicals cause damage to the DNA in our cells, including key genes that protect us against cancer. Over time, the damage can become irreversible, leading to cell mutations and cancer. Not only does smoking increase the risk of lung cancer, but it also raises the likelihood of developing cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, pancreas, bladder, and cervix. Quitting smoking, even after years of use, can significantly reduce the risk of developing cancer.
Diet plays a pivotal role in cancer risk. Diets high in processed and red meats have been linked to colorectal cancer, possibly due to carcinogenic compounds formed during meat processing or cooking at high temperatures. Conversely, diets rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fiber are associated with a reduced risk of certain cancers. These foods contain essential nutrients and antioxidants that can protect cells from damage. Adopting a diet focused on plant-based foods and limiting the intake of processed and red meats can contribute to a lower cancer risk.
Physical inactivity can lead to obesity and associated hormonal changes that may increase cancer risk. Exercise, on the other hand, helps regulate hormone levels, including estrogen and insulin, which can influence cancer growth. Regular physical activity is linked to a lower risk of breast, colorectal, and uterine cancers. The World Health Organization recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of high-intensity physical activity weekly to reduce cancer risk.
Alcohol consumption can increase the risk of several types of cancer, including those of the liver, breast, esophagus, and throat. Alcohol acts as a solvent, helping harmful chemicals to enter the cells lining the mouth, throat, and esophagus more easily. It also metabolizes into acetaldehyde, a toxic chemical and probable human carcinogen. Limiting alcohol intake or avoiding it altogether can significantly reduce cancer risk.
Excess body weight is a significant risk factor for various types of cancer. Fat tissue produces excess amounts of estrogen and high levels of insulin, both of which can promote cancer growth. Obesity also leads to chronic inflammation, which can contribute to the development of cancer. Maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise can reduce the risk of several cancers, including endometrial, breast (in postmenopausal women), and colorectal cancers.