What are Risk Factors?

How does cancer arise, what causes it, how can these risk factors be avoided and which ones are impossible to avoid? In this article we want you to learn more about this subject and to understand more about this topic that is so closely related to cancer.

¿Qué son los factores de riesgo? - LifEscozul™

When it comes to cancer, it is difficult for many patients to accept that they are ill when they have led a completely healthy life. On the contrary, we can see people who have never worried about their health throughout their lives and did not get cancer.

And we cannot understand these situations if we do not understand that they are risk factors.

What are risk factors?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), a risk factor is any trait, characteristic or exposure of an individual that increases his or her likelihood of suffering a disease or injury. (1)

Some risk factors are common to all cancers, and some only predispose to certain types of cancer. Which, let's face it, can be very confusing for most people.

For example, smoking is a risk factor for almost all types of cancer. However, human papillomavirus infection is the most important risk factor for cervical cancer and is specific to this type of cancer.

How many types of risk factors can there be?

Modifiable Risk Factors

Some risk factors can be modified by simply avoiding them and having the will to avoid them.

We can decide not to smoke and thereby reduce the likelihood of becoming ill not only from a large number of cancers, but also from a number of non-cancerous diseases that can affect health.

We need to change our eating habits and decide to eat a healthy diet, avoid being overweight, and exercise frequently to combat obesity, which will decrease the possibility of developing tumours such as oesophagus, colon, rectum, breast, endometrial and kidney tumours.

We can reduce and even eliminate alcohol consumption, which is a major risk factor for the development of cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, liver, colon, rectum and breast.

A person who smokes and drinks alcohol is likely to get cancer of the oral cavity, oesophagus, pharynx and larynx by having more than one risk factor.

Sin embargo, no necesariamente al tener dos o más factores de riesgo, modificables o no, significa que necesariamente sufrirá de cáncer. Hay personas que enferman de cáncer que no tienen factores de riesgo. Es por ello que hablamos de posibilidades.However, having two or more risk factors, modifiable or not, does not necessarily mean that you will necessarily get cancer. There are people who get cancer who have no risk factors. This is why we talk about possibilities.

NON-modifiable Risk Factors

The ones we cannot change are the so-called non-modifiable ones. And these cannot be avoided.

Age or getting older is a non-modifiable risk factor. For example, the median age at diagnosis for breast cancer is 61 years, for colorectal cancer 68 years, for lung cancer 70 years and for prostate cancer 66 years, for example.

As we get older, the possibility of developing cancer increases. Hence the importance of seeing a doctor regularly after a certain age.

Gender is another non-modifiable factor, e.g. prostate cancer affects only men, while ovarian cancer only affects women.

Genetic inheritance. Having first-line relatives who suffer or have suffered from certain types of cancer is a risk factor that increases the possibility of developing cancer. This is the case, for example, with breast cancer.

But What are the most common risk factors for cancer in general?

The most common risk factors for cancer are:

  • Alcohol
  • Diet
  • Age
  • Infectious germs
  • Infectious germs
  • Hormones
  • Hormones
  • Chronic inflammation
  • Chronic inflammation
  • Immunosuppression
  • Immunosuppression
  • Sunlight
  • Obesity
  • Radiation
  • Cancer-causing substances in the environment
  • Substances in the environment that cause cancer
  • Tobacco
  • Genetics

Within these factors I want to talk to you about smoking.

Smoking is the single most important preventable risk factor for cancer deaths worldwide, accounting for approximately 22% of annual cancer deaths.

Tobacco smoke causes many different types of cancer, including cancers of the lung, oesophagus, larynx (voice box), mouth, throat, kidney, bladder, pancreas, stomach and cervix.

About 70% of the lung cancer burden can be attributed to smoking as the sole cause. Second-hand smoke, also called "environmental smoke", has been shown to cause lung cancer in non-smoking adults.

Smokeless tobacco (in the form of oral tobacco products, chewing tobacco or snuff) causes cancers of the mouth, oesophagus and pancreas.

The following are the main risk factors for some of the most common cancers.

Breast cancer


  • Consumption of alcoholic beverages.
  • Overweight or obesity.
  • Physical inactivity.
  • Women who have not had children.
  • Not breastfeeding their babies.
  • Use of hormonal methods of contraception.
  • Hormonal treatments after menopause. (5)

Non Modifiable

  • Being a woman
  • Age
  • Family history of breast cancer
  • Personal history of breast cancer
  • Race and ethnicity
  • Breast tissue
  • Dense breast tissue
  • Dense breast tissue
  • Some benign breast conditions
  • Breast cancer
  • Early onset of menstruation
  • Menopause after the age of 55
  • Radiation treatment to the breast
  • Exposure to diethylstilbestrol. (6)

Lung cancer

  • Tobacco smoke. Approximately 80% of lung cancer deaths are due to smoking.
  • Radon exposure
  • Asbestos exposure
  • Exposure to other carcinogens in the work area (uranium, arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, etc.).
  • Environmental pollution
  • Arsenic in drinking water
  • Previous radiotherapy to the lungs
  • Personal or family history of lung cancer
  • Some food components. (7)

Prostate cancer

  • Age. It rarely affects men under the age of 40.
  • Race and ethnicity. Occurs most frequently in black and Caribbean men of African descent.
  • Geography. It is most common in North America and northwestern Europe.
  • Family background
  • Genetic changes
  • Some less clear factors:
    • Food
    • Obesity
    • Smoking
    • Chemical exposures
    • Prostate inflammation
    • Sexually transmitted infections
    • Vasectomy (8)


We cannot avoid ageing, it is part of our condition. But we can determine how we age and take care of our bodies. Eliminating modifiable risk factors is essential to reduce the likelihood of cancer.

Unfortunately there are some that cannot be changed, fortunately there are many that can, and sometimes the development of the disease depends on the interaction between what cannot be changed and what can.

Eliminate the risk factors that affect your life, and by doing so your chances of reaching old age will be greater.


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