The 4 most common cancers. Do you know their risk factors?

Cancer impacts most Canadians’ lives, whether that be from a personal diagnosis or with supporting a friend or family member affected by the disease. The Canadian Cancer Society estimates that about 2 in 5 Canadians will develop cancer in their lifetime, and about 1 in 4 Canadians will die from the disease. Some of the most common types of cancer in Canada include non-melanoma skin cancer, lung, breast, prostate and colorectal cancer. Cancer is a disease that in general results from changes in the growth cycle and differentiation of cells, and it can affect multiple organs and body systems. The disease is complicated and researchers have not identified all causes yet. We know some risk factors are beyond our control, like gender or hereditary factors. But there are some positive lifestyle measures that can be implemented to reduce your risk for cancer and other health concerns.

The 4 most common cancers in Canada:

  1. Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer is the most common cancer in Canada. Regular skin self-screening, such as assessing moles and spots, and protective measures, such as wearing sun screen, can help reduce your risk of skin cancer. The main risk factors for skin cancer include exposure to UV radiation, light coloured skin, eyes and hair, a personal history of skin cancer, radiation exposure, and chemical exposure.
  2. Lung cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer associated death and is the most commonly diagnosed in people over the age of 50. Some risk factors for lung cancer can be preventable and it is important to be aware of these risks. The main risk factors for lung cancer include smoking tobacco, radon exposure, asbestos exposure, physical inactivity, a diet low in vegetables and fruits, increased age, and a family history of lung cancer.
  3. Breast Cancer: It is estimated that 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. It is important for patients to understand their risk factors for developing breast cancer and screening recommendations. The main risk factors for breast cancer include a personal or family history of breast cancer, gene mutations, an earlier age of menstruation onset, a later onset of menopause, exposure to radiation therapy, alcohol consumption, obesity, and physical inactivity.
  4. Prostate Cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in men. Most cases occur in people older than 50 years of age. The main risk factors for prostate cancer includes an older age, African American and Caribbean ethnicity, family history of prostate cancer, certain gene changes and chemical exposure.

Colorectal Cancer

Most cases of colorectal cancer are diagnosed in people between the ages of 50 and 74 years old. Knowing your risks for colorectal cancer can help you make screening decisions and inform lifestyle changes to reduce this risk. The main risk factors for colorectal cancer include family or personal history of colorectal cancer, physical inactivity, obesity, alcohol use, smoking, a diet high in red meat and processed meats, a diet low in fiber, and sedentary behaviour.

Actions you can take to reduce your risk factors:

Risk factors for cancer can be modifiable or non-modifiable. Modifiable risk factors are behaviours or items that someone can change to alter their risk of developing cancer. Non-modifiable risk factors are items that someone cannot change to alter their risk of developing cancer such as family history, age and sex assigned at birth. We cannot change our non-modifiable risk factors but understanding ways to manage modifiable risk factors can help you reduce your personal risk of developing certain cancers. Here are some actions you can take to reduce your risk;

In addition to making positive lifestyle changes, following recommended screening protocols, such as mammograms, can help you detect certain cancers early on leading to better outcomes. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about ways you can reduce your risk factors for cancer and whether screening is recommended for you.


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