Cancer is the name used for a group of over 100 diseases that result when cells malfunction and grow out of control. Research into the causes of cancer has determined that there are many reasons people can get cancer. Knowing what causes cancer can help healthcare providers develop ways to treat and prevent the disease.
Genetics is a specific area of biology that studies how characteristics and diseases are inherited or passed down in a family. Certain types of cancer can be passed down in a family line. But the number of cancers that can be linked to inheritance is small.
If you know that someone in your direct family line (linked by blood, not just by marriage) has or had cancer, tell your health care provider. If genetic tests exist for that type of cancer, you might be able to find out if you are at higher risk because someone in your family has the disease.
Carcinogens are substances that research shows can lead to cancer. These harmful substances can take many forms and may be found in your home or workplace.
A few commonly known carcinogens include:
• Asbestos – This mineral takes the form of fibers that were once commonly used in floor and ceiling tiles, roofing shingles, and as insulation in homes, schools, and workplaces.
• Tobacco – Using tobacco is the cause of nearly 1 out of 5 deaths in the United States and is the largest single cause of cancer deaths in this country. Cancer resulting from tobacco use is also the most preventable cause of death.
• Benzene – This chemical is a colorless, flammable liquid that is commonly used as a solvent and to make other chemicals. Benzene occurs naturally in crude oil, gasoline, and cigarette smoke. It was once also used as an additive in gasoline.
• Radiation – Sufficiently high doses of specific kinds of radiation known as iodizing radiation can cause cancer. This type of radiation occurs naturally in our solar system. Man-made sources include X-rays and other medical tests. Nuclear weapons testing released this kind of radiation.