Here’s information about a disease that affects millions of Americans each year.

When it comes to cancer, people often have many questions. That’s due in part to the fact that there are many different types of cancer and each has different risk factors, symptoms, screening tests and treatments. Knowledge is power when it comes to protecting yourself from cancer, as well as staying healthier overall. So here are answers to some of the most common questions people have about the disease.

What are the most common types of cancer?

Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosis, affecting an estimated 281,550 women and 2,650 men in 2021. The second most common cancer overall is prostate cancer, although it’s the most common one for men—with 248,530 new cases estimated in 2021. Lung cancer is third, with colorectal cancer and melanoma rounding out the top five, as reported by the National Cancer Institute.

What causes cancer?

There are two main factors that contribute to cancer. One is a predisposition to it (such as family history), which you can’t do anything about. The other is exposure to triggers in the environment, such as cigarette smoke, sun exposure and environmental toxins. These you have some control over.

Why isn’t there a single test that can detect all types of cancer?

It’s not that easy because cancer is not one disease, but rather a group of diseases. Each type of cancer looks different because it starts off being similar to normal cells in the area where it occurs. In some cases, tests can detect early changes in those cells (such as with Pap tests for cervical cancer), but in others, cancer cells may multiply to produce billions of cells before a tumor is big enough to detect.

Why is it so important to get regular cancer screenings?

Screening tests, like mammograms, colonoscopies, Pap tests and others, can help detect cancer when it’s at an early stage, before any symptoms appear. When found early, cancer is often easier to treat. But if it isn’t diagnosed until symptoms appear, the cancer may have grown or spread, making it harder to treat or cure.

Can your diet contribute to cancer?

It may, although there is no definitive link. Food itself doesn’t contain toxins known to cause cancer. But your diet, especially if you eat a lot of fat and not a lot of fiber, may contribute to the develop of some types of cancer. Of course, a poor diet may also lead to other serious health issues, such as heart disease and diabetes, so there are many benefits to eating healthier.

Is smoking really a big deal when it comes to cancer?

Absolutely! Smoking causes the vast majority of lung cancers. It has also been shown to contribute to cancer of the mouth, esophagus, larynx, bladder, kidney and pancreas. If you’re concerned about getting cancer, quitting smoking is one of the best ways to lower your risk.

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Date Last Reviewed: December 13, 2021

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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