Cancer begins when the normal, healthy cells in the body undergo a series of genetic mutations or changes that cause them to grow and divide uncontrollably. These mutations can accumulate over time, and while there is often no single cause for cancer, several factors can contribute to the development of cancer:
- Genetic Mutations: Mutations in the DNA of a cell can disrupt the normal regulatory mechanisms that control cell growth and division. These mutations can be inherited from one’s parents or acquired during a person’s lifetime due to exposure to carcinogens (cancer-causing substances) or random errors in DNA replication.
- Carcinogens: Exposure to certain environmental factors or substances can increase the risk of cancer. These include tobacco smoke, ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun, ionizing radiation (e.g., from X-rays), certain chemicals and toxins (e.g., asbestos, benzene), and some viruses (e.g., human papillomavirus or HPV).
- Lifestyle Factors: Certain lifestyle choices can contribute to cancer development. These include smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, a poor diet high in processed foods and low in fruits and vegetables, lack of physical activity, and obesity.
- Age: Cancer risk increases with age, as the likelihood of accumulating genetic mutations and exposure to carcinogens over time increases.
- Family History: Some cancers have a hereditary component, meaning they can run in families due to inherited genetic mutations that increase the risk of developing cancer. For example, certain breast and ovarian cancers can be associated with mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.
- Hormones: Changes in hormone levels, such as those occurring during hormonal therapy, pregnancy, or menopause, can influence the risk of certain cancers, including breast and uterine cancer.
It’s important to note that cancer is not a single disease but a group of diseases that can affect different tissues and organs in the body. Each type of cancer can have its own unique set of risk factors and underlying genetic mutations. Detecting cancer early through regular screenings and adopting a healthy lifestyle can reduce the risk of cancer and improve outcomes when cancer is diagnosed. Additionally, advancements in cancer research have led to the development of treatments that target specific genetic mutations and pathways involved in cancer growth, offering new hope for patients.