What causes cancer?

There are many different kinds of cancer (around 200) and there is no single cause. Your risk of getting a particular cancer depends on your genes and your environment.

Although some cancers (such as acute leukaemia) occur in children, the risk of developing most types of cancer goes up as we get older. The longer we are alive, the more time there is for the DNA in a cell to get damaged and give rise to a reproducing cancer cell.

But just think how differently cells get treated by their owners. Some cells spend every day fighting off toxins from cigarette smoke while deprived of essential nutrients. Others, with more caring owners, are bathed in antioxidants which protect their DNA from damaging attacks by free radicals, while being supplied with just the right balance of nutrients.

Your genes are made of DNA. The genes you were born with make you more or less susceptible to certain cancers. A whole host of environmental factors – which alter the conditions the precious DNA in your cells has to contend with – influence whether you actually get cancer or not.

Environmental factors known to influence cancer risk include: diet, exercise, tobacco smoke, carcinogens (cancer-causing chemicals), sunshine, radiation, virus infections and asbestos.


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