The National Cancer Institute estimated that in 2013 there would be over 1.6 million new cases of cancer in the U.S. and over a half-million cancer-related deaths. Just about everyone knows someone who's had some kind of cancer and when it's in the family, concerns about our own risk run deep.
But predicting cancer is not easy. After all, it is not just one disease but actually a grouping of over 100 different diseases that all share the common characteristic of abnormal cell division and invasion. Fortunately, there are some ways to get an idea of your personal cancer risk. There are even fairly simple changes you can make now to significantly improve your chances of staying cancer-free, says Graham Colditz, associate director for prevention and control at Washington University's Siteman Cancer Center. "We don't have to be fatalistic that we're all going to get cancer," says Colditz. No one can guarantee you'll avoid cancer but informing yourself about the different predictors and taking health precautions is a good place to start.
Living next to a power plant or Superfund site is probably less likely to cause cancer than being overweight, but still, chemicals found in air, water, and some of the places we work have all been linked to cancer. A prime example is asbestos, a mineral fiber that was used in a whole mess of products – like textured paints, shingles, auto clutches – because it was strong and heat-resistant. Exposure to asbestos fibers can result in lung cancer or mesothelioma. With asbestos risk recognized, Colditz says environmental-related cancer risk should not be the top concern for most people these days.
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