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Key Factors That Contribute to Cancer

Expertly reviewed by Dexter Macalintal, MD · Internal or General Medicine

Written by Samantha Beltran · Updated Mar 14, 2022

Key Factors That Contribute to Cancer

Around the world, cancer continues to be the second leading cause of death, with 9.6 million lives lost worldwide in 2018. The World Health Organization (WHO) said that 141,021 cases of cancer were diagnosed in 2018. Meanwhile in Asia, over 9.5 million cases of cancer were recorded in the region as of 2020. And because cancer is still one of the largest health concerns we have today, it is important to understand the different cancer risk factors that increase the probability of getting the disease.

What Is Cancer?

While our body’s cells normally grow and divide, cancer is a medical term that refers to diseases where some of the body’s cells grow and divide uncontrollably. When cells overproduce, they can form a mass called a tumor — whether benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). 

There are over 100 types of cancer that affect different parts of the body. Cancerous cells can also spread to other organs. Meanwhile, there are other types of cancer that do not develop tumors, such as leukemia.

Key Factors That Contribute to Cancer

There are certain cancer risk factors that influence your chances of being diagnosed with cancer. While these factors do not directly cause cancer, having one or more of these risk factors should encourage you to go for regular cancer screening for early detection of possible cancer before it develops into a more severe stage.


While cancer can strike at any age, the older a person gets, the higher the chance they could be at risk of cancer. More cases of cancer rise steadily with age.

Lifestyle Factors

Smoking, a high-fat diet, and working with toxic chemicals are examples of lifestyle choices that may be cancer risk factors. Most children with cancer, however, are too young to receive exposure to these lifestyle factors for any extended time.


People who are obese have an increased risk of developing cancer. This is primarily caused by the inflammation caused by visceral fat, or the fat that surrounds vital organs. This inflammation leads to more insulin being produced in the pancreas, while extra fat cells create more estrogen. Too much insulin and estrogen can lead cells to split more than usual, which can lead to cancerous cells.

Family History

Family history is one of the most common cancer risk factors. It is possible for cancer of varying forms to be present more than once in a family. It is unknown in these circumstances if a genetic mutation causes the disease. Or if it is exposure to chemicals near a family’s residence, a combination of these factors, or simply coincidence.

Weakened Immune System 

The immune system is what protects our bodies from infection and disease. When something alters the immune system, the body weakens its defense against illness. Patients who take an immunosuppressive drug, or whose body is immunocompromised (such as people with HIV/AIDS) lose their body’s ability to destroy cancer cells or fight off infection that produces cancer. There are also genetic disorders that can alter the immune system, such as Wiskott-Aldrich and Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome. 

Exposures to Certain Viruses

Being exposed to certain viruses has been linked to a higher risk of developing childhood cancers such as Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. These include Epstein-Barr virus and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

cancer risk factors

Environmental Exposures

As cancer involves how our cells grow and divide, there are certain environmental exposures that damage our DNA and lead to these cell changes. These are environmental carcinogens.

Some of the most common environmental carcinogens include asbestos, secondhand smoke, wood dust, soot, and more.

Radiation Exposure

Contrary to popular belief, visible light and energy from cell phones are not cancer risk factors. That said, high-energy radiation, such as radon, x-rays, gamma rays, alpha particles, beta particles, and neutrons, can damage DNA and cause cancer. These can happen through exposure to rocks and soil with high levels of radon, or in nuclear powerplant accidents.

Learn more about Cancer here.


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Expertly reviewed by

Dexter Macalintal, MD

Internal or General Medicine

Written by Samantha Beltran · Updated Mar 14, 2022

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