Many patients diagnosed with cancer search for answers about what caused the disease. In most cases, it is difficult and complicated to pinpoint the specific reason someone developed cancer. Cancer is an extremely complex disease, with more than 200 types, and many factors can contribute to an individual developing the disease. While there are some known causes of cancer, many more are unknown.

According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, genetic and external factors are two known causes that play a role in the development of cancer. However, only a small number of cancers are hereditary, which means that external factors, some of which can be controlled, have a significant impact. Research has shown that the risk for developing many cancers can be reduced by making healthy lifestyle choices.


While you don’t inherit cancer, you can inherit a higher risk for developing cancer. Some individuals may have a greater risk of developing cancer because of an inherited gene mutation. Texas Oncology’s Hereditary Cancer Risk Assessment Program evaluates whether an individual has an increased risk for certain types of cancer, such as colon, breast and ovarian, and provides patients with the tools needed to make informed decisions and can offer an arsenal of options to help prevent a future cancer. Researchers are studying a variety of genes to determine if other cancers have hereditary factors.


External factors that may contribute to developing cancer include lifestyle choices such as poor diet, smoking and lack of activity, and environmental factors such as exposure to radiation, chemicals, ultraviolet rays of the sun, and certain infections and viruses. It is important to limit exposure to known carcinogens and take steps to reduce your cancer risk.


The good news is that up to a third of common cancers may be preventable, according to the American Institute of Cancer Research. Taking preventive measures by adopting a healthy lifestyle is the best tool available to reduce cancer risk.

Eat Right: A well-balanced diet with an emphasis on plant foods may bolster body defenses against cancer and help you maintain a healthy weight. One of the healthiest ways to reduce calories is to limit the intake of sugars, saturated fats, trans fats and alcohol, and to include more healthy foods like nutrient-packed produce.

Get Moving: Enjoy physical fitness as part of your everyday life and maintain a healthy weight. The American Cancer Society recommends 150 minutes of exercise a week. Any level of activity beyond your usual activities can have a positive impact on your health.

Protect Your Skin: The incidence rates of skin cancer continue to rise, but it is also highly preventable by limiting exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays, always using sunscreen, covering up and avoiding indoor tanning beds.

Don’t Smoke: Lung cancer risk increases with each cigarette smoked. Research has consistently proven that quitting smoking significantly reduces the risk of lung cancer and many other types of cancer. Not smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke are two of the most effective ways to reduce your risk for lung cancer.

For more information about preventing cancer, please visit

Dr. Suresh Ratnam is a medical oncologist at Texas Oncology–McAllen, 1901 South Second Street in McAllen, Texas.

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