According to the National Cancer Institute, a risk factor is anything that raises or lowers a person’s chance of developing a disease. Although doctors can seldom explain why one person develops the disease and another does not, researchers have identified specific factors that increase a person’s chances of developing certain types of cancers.
Cancer risk factors can be divided into four groups:
- Behavioral risk factors are things you do, such as smoking, drinking alcohol, using tanning beds, eating unhealthy foods, being overweight and not getting enough exercise.
- Environmental risk factors include things in the environment around you, such as UV radiation, secondhand smoke, pollution, pesticides and other toxins.
- Biological risk factors are physical characteristics such as your gender, race or ethnicity, age and skin complexion.
- Hereditary risk factors relate to specific mutated genes inherited from your parents. You have a higher likelihood of developing cancer if you inherit one of these mutated genes.
Most behavioral and environmental cancer risk factors can be avoided. Biological and hereditary risk factors are unavoidable, but it's important to be aware of them so you can discuss them with your doctor and get screened for cancer, if necessary.