Articles Cancer

Major Causes of Cancer

A recent study pointed to cancers being diagnosed in people at a younger age. The authors also listed major causes of cancer based on their observations.

Our goal here at Digital Nomad Health is to decrease cancer risk in our patients. Identifying potential causes of cancer is the first step. Addressing lifestyle changes to prevent those cancers is the next step.

There is incredible research being done on cancer, and we thought identifying potential causes of cancer may help prevent them in the first place; we also know that catching cancer early can be curative.

Digital Nomad Health’s mission is to keep you healthy by preventing chronic diseases and helping you maximize your wellness metrics. We’ll help you think through your tough medical decisions!

Limitations of Observational Studies

With any such study, it’s important to take the observational aspects with a grain of salt. For example, just because those who consume more salt have a higher cancer risk, it may not be the salt but the foods they are not eating; meaning, they are perhaps having a lot of salty chips instead of snacking on fruits and veggies and maybe the nutrient deficiency they are experiencing is what is increasing their risk of cancer.

Even more complex, it might be that the person is having salty foods mostly when they hang out in the sun. In this case, it could be the excess sun exposure combined with salt exposure that is the hidden cause behind the increased cancer cases.

Top Causes of Cancer

  • Tobacco
  • Alcohol
  • Low intake of vegetables, grains, and fruit
  • High intake of red meat
  • High intake of salt
  • Physical inactivity
  • Obesity
  • High fasting blood sugars
  • Exposure to radiation
  • Exposure to viruses

From this list, it would be safe to say that alcohol, tobacco, and obesity are the strongest drivers of cancer at a young age or cancer in general. They certainly are more modifiable. As always, perfection isn’t the goal – aiming for a perfect BMI is of little value, but doing the right things to optimize our BMI is valuable.

What’s not as easy to observe from these studies is whether other factors could play a role in causing cancer, such as:

  • environmental carcinogens
  • stress
  • poor sleep
  • dehydration
  • medications
  • supplements
  • hormone deficiencies
  • inflammation

1. Tobacco

Though some studies show that low levels of nicotine can have health benefits, it seems that other chemicals in cigarettes increase the risk of cancers.

It’s not just lung cancer but cervical cancer, esophageal, and even colon cancer risk that goes up with tobacco exposure. Therefore, minimizing tobacco exposure is a good intervention. Do you need to cut out all the tobacco? As always, it makes sense to take positive steps towards your ideal health goal, but perfect is the enemy of success.

2. Alcohol

There is a dose-dependent relationship between alcohol consumption and cancer. Our advice to our patients is to avoid regular, frequent drinking of alcohol. Taking a break from it from time to time or, if drinking it regularly, to have it in lesser amounts is a good choice.

If alcohol is your favorite method to unwind, relax, and have fun, it’s also worthwhile to consider other aspects of your lifestyle you can improve. We advise our patients to eat a little healthier, get a little more exercise, and avoid drinking late at night to avoid disrupting their sleep.

And if you’re going to drink, you might as well make it good-quality alcohol. Mezcal is a current favorite here at the DNH headquarters.

Just because a person drinks some alcohol on occasion, it doesn’t mean their risk of cancer increases. Yes, there is a dose-dependant curve associating alcohol with cancer but that can’t be extrapolated to all individuals.

Our patients who are in the low-use territory are advised to pay less attention to the alcohol-cancer discussions. Those who have strong reactions to alcohol, such as some of the patients of Chinese patients, are advised to cut back whenever possible.

3. Obesity

Weight and cancer is a sensitive topic, we understand. We would never advise someone to lose weight to decrease their cancer risk – that’s simply fear-mongering. There certainly is an association between excess weight and cancer, such as esophageal and endometrial cancer. The other cancers rise very, very slightly with elevated weight.

And though articles might claim that obesity causes cancer, there is no proof of that. The association is quite strong but also not as solid as it’s made out to be. Furthermore, it matters if you are obese or overweight (based on BMI standards.) And it also matters how the fat is distributed throughout your body.

It’s much more important that the person who is dealing with excess weight is eating well, exercising, controlling inflammation, and managing stress than obsessing over their BMI.

Inflammation & Cancer

Those individuals with obesity who are also dealing with excess visceral fat and intracellular fat in muscle tissue can also experience a high level of inflammation, which may increase the risk of malignancy.

Visceral fat is associated with inflammation due to the release of adipokines such as IL-6 or TNF-α. At least that’s the theory, and we always avoid getting too much into the weeds here at DNH since the weeds are where hypotheses are still being tested.

We have good markers of inflammation, from biomarkers to symptoms. Whenever possible, we like to help our patients minimize their inflammation.

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