Wouldn't it be wonderful to step into Dr. Oz's Truth Tube and learn if you are at risk for certain cancers? Unfortunately, figuring out the cause of cancer has proven to be intensely complex. We already know that it is not just one thing that causes cancer in everyone. Sometimes cancer makes a beeline when a person inherits a faulty gene or is exposed to a potent carcinogen. And sometimes the cause is impossible to pin down. But there are some factors providing powerful hints when someone is at a higher risk for developing the disease. And if people respect these risk factors and take actions to reduce them, they might save their life.
What is a risk factor?
Doctors talk about risk factors as something that you do, or is done to you, that increases the chance of developing a disease. To establish risk factors researchers look at the details of people who have developed the disease for shared features like age, race, living habits, environmental exposures, commingling diseases, genetic defects and family history. When a commonality emerges, it is labeled as a risk factor.
It is not a perfect system, however. Some people are more susceptible to outside influences then others, while others have personal characteristics that are inherently protective. So you can have one or many risk factors and dodge the disease entirely, or have no known risk factors and get hit with the disease.
Still, if there are factors you can change, it makes sense to change them. Of course there might not be anything one can do to change their genes, race or age. But people at higher risk can up their surveillance by arranging screening tests at more regular intervals or take medicines known to reduce the risk in susceptible people.
Regardless, everyone should know his or her risk factor profile and learn what they can do to change - or eliminate - their chances of developing cancer.