Why Do So Many People Get Cancer, and Who's Most Likely to Develop the Disease?

It’s no secret that cancer is a serious health concern for millions worldwide. In the U.S. alone, there will be an estimated 1,735,350 new cases of cancer diagnosed in 2018. Not only that, but over 600,000 are also expected to die from the disease. All of this amounts to nearly 40% of all men and women being diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives.

You know exercising, eating healthy foods, and avoiding cigarettes are all vital when it comes to avoiding cancer — but why does the disease seem to be on the rise? Here’s why so many people are developing the disease, and who’s most likely to get it.

We’re living a lot longer, which is a risk factor for cancer

Happy senior couple outdoors | Wavebreakmedia/iStock/Getty Images

Cancer cases are certainly on the rise, but it’s important to note the age group of the people most likely to develop the disease. The New York Times reminds us a century ago, our life expectancy was only into the mid-50s at best. Now, the median life expectancy is around the age of 79 — and most cancer deaths occur around the age of 72. A likely reason for less cancer deaths many years back is simply because people weren’t living long enough to develop the disease in the first place.

If you’re over the age of 55, that’s when you should really start paying attention to your cancer risk. Live Science notes around 77% of all cancers occur in those over this age — and that’s expected to double by 2060 due to more people living longer than ever before.

Our diets are also a contributing factor

Woman eating a healthy salad | RossHelen/iStock/Getty Images

Aside from living longer, our diets have also changed dramatically over the years. And while it’s easy to believe everything about “cancer-causing foods” that you hear, Cancer Treatment Centers of America reminds us there are actually relatively few foods that are directly linked to the disease. With that said, maintaining a healthy diet is key to living a long, disease-free life — and there are certainly some foods you should avoid if you’re worried about cancer.

Alcohol: Unfortunately for cocktail lovers, several studies have shown that after you metabolize alcohol, your body produces a compound that can damage DNA. Alcohol consumption has been particularly linked to cancers of the head and neck, esophagus, liver, breast, and colon.

Processed or charred meats: As far as proteins go, it’s best if you go for poultry or fish rather than processed meats, charred meats, or red meats. Foods cooked at high temperatures may form chemicals that can alter your DNA, and consuming processed meats like bacon and sausage is linked to a higher risk of colorectal cancer. And eating too many red meats has also been linked to cancers of the colon, pancreas, and prostate.

Hot drinks: Make sure your coffee is cooled off a bit before sipping. Beverages hotter than 149 degrees Fahrenheit can present a concern for esophageal cancer.

Aside from seniors, who has the highest risk?

You know that age might be the biggest risk factor you have no control over, but aside from that, genetics also have a lot to do with it. Cancer.Net explains if you have a family history of cancer, this can dramatically increase your odds of developing it no matter how healthy your everyday habits are. Genetics aside, tobacco usage, obesity, certain viral infections (like the human papillomavirus), some chemicals, and exposure to the sun can all cause cancer.

You should also make sure you’re getting regular screenings if you know you’re at a high risk. Talk to your doctor for their opinion about how you should proceed if you’re fearful of cancer.

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