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Cancer is a group of diseases in which abnormal cells in a part of the body begin to grow out of control. The cancerous cells may localize where they started or they may invade other areas of the body, as well.
There are over 100 types of cancer, such as breast cancer, lung cancer, lymphoma, colon cancer, and skin cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, over half of men and one-third of all women in the United States will develop cancer during their lives. Millions of people are living with cancer, and when diagnosed and treated earlier, the chances for living a longer or cancer-free life are much higher.
Risks for Cancer
There are some things that increase an individual’s risk for developing cancer, including:
- Family history—If you have a grandparent, parent, or sibling with certain types of cancer (e.g., breast cancer), you are at higher risk.
- Tobacco use—If you are a tobacco user (cigarette, cigar, and smokeless tobacco), you are at higher risk.
- Weight, nutrition, and level of physical activity—According to the American Cancer Society, one-third of cancer deaths each year are linked to poor diet, physical inactivity, and carrying too much weight.
- Alcohol use—Use of alcohol can increase your risk for certain types of cancer (e.g., liver, esophagus, and throat).
- Exposure to sun—Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers. You are at higher risk if you've had unprotected or excessive exposure to UV radiation (e.g., from the sun), you have a fair complexion, you have multiple or atypical moles, or you had severe sunburns as a child.
- Environmental exposure—Many things in our everyday environment can increase your risk for cancer. For example, if you have been exposed to lead, second hand smoke, or asbestos, you may be at higher risk. The American Cancer Society website provides detailed information on the different environmental exposures you should be aware of.
What You Can Do
Whether you are at risk for cancer or have been diagnosed, there are steps you can take to improve your health and quality of life.
- Incorporate healthy eating and physical activity into your daily life
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Quit smoking
- Watch your alcohol intake
If you have cancer, talk with your doctor about your diagnosis and the different treatment options available. Seek out the many support resources offered through your community and your health plan provider (Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, Tufts Health Plan, or UnitedHealthcare). Also, learn all you can about your condition. These websites provide information and support resources: