Cancer starts from the uncontrolled division of cells in the body. As the abnormal cells continue to grow, they form a tumor. As the tumor grows it can metastasize, or spread, and begin forming new tumors in different parts of the body. Not all cancers behave the same way; different types of cancer have different growth rates and respond differently to anti-cancer treatments. In medical terms, cancer is referred to as malignant neoplasms.
Cancer is the leading cause of death in Alaska and the second leading cause of death in the United States. One in three women and one in two men will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during their life. Prevention, screening, and treatment options are available for most types of cancer and their use and advancements in each have decreased death rates due to cancer.
Cancer generally develops over several years and has many causes. Several cancer risk factors both inside and outside the body contribute to the development of cancer. Some of these factors include genetics, tobacco use, diet, weight, physical inactivity, and excessive sunlight exposure. Other factors include exposure to chemicals that may be present in food, air, or water such as asbestos, benzene, and arsenic.
Nobody is immune from getting cancer. Even though scientific studies have shown that specific factors increase the risk for cancer, sometimes people who have no risk factors still develop cancer and people who have many risk factors do not develop cancer. The following list contains common cancer risk factors. It is important to remember that some of these are modifiable and some are not:
- Older age; the risk of developing cancer increases with age
- Tobacco use
- Diets high in red meats and processed meats
- Excessive sunlight exposure
- Certain environmental exposures
- Genetics and family history
- Certain medical conditions/diseases such as a weak immune system, diabetes, Crohn's Disease, or human papillomavirus (HPV) infection
There are many ways to reduce your risk for cancer. Following these guidelines will not only reduce your risk for cancer, but improve your general health as well:
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Include a diet high in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains
- Exercise regularly
- Do not smoke; if you already smoke, look for ways to quit
- If you drink, drink only in moderation
- Receive proper immunizations; certain infectious diseases like the human papillomavirus (HPV) and Hepatitis B and C could lead to cancer later in life
- Protect your skin from the sun; wear proper sun-protection clothing and use plenty of sunscreen when you are outside
- Limit your exposure to environmental risk factors, such as asbestos, radon, arsenic, and benzene
- Get regular medical check-ups, including cancer screening tests like mannography, Pap test, and colonoscopy. Early detection of cancer significantly improves the chances of a complete recovery.
Cancer data come from several sources:
- Screening: The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) monitors the use of preventive screening for a variety of cancer types such as mammography to detect breast cancer, Pap tests for cervical cancer, colonoscopy for colorectal cancer, and PSA tests for prostate cancer.
- Incidence, stage at diagnosis, and survivorship: The Alaska Cancer Registry collects detailed information about Alaska cancer patients and the treatments they receive, which makes the monitoring of trends in incidence and mortality as well as the evaluation of prevention and control measures possible. State cancer registries share their data with CDC, which makes it possible to monitor trends at a national level.
- Mortality: Death certificates are a fundamental source of demographic, geographic, and cause-of-death information. They make it possible to track every death in the nation due to cancer. Deaths are reported as being due to cancer when the cancer was the underlying cause of death.