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Smoking and older age are biggest cancer risk factors, study finds

Health care providers should consider several factors when identifying patients for cancer screenings

Cancer medical concept
Photo (c) RapidEye - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from the American Cancer Society pinpointed two major risk factors for consumers when it comes to developing any kind of cancer: older age and smoking status. 

“Single cancer type-specific screening recommendations are based on risk factors for that specific type of cancer,” said researcher Dr. Alpa Patel. “Our findings are encouraging as we are working to define subgroups in the general population who could benefit from enhanced cancer screening and prevention.” 

Identifying those at the highest risk of cancer

The researchers analyzed data from nearly 430,000 participants enrolled in two studies – the Cancer Prevention Study-II Nutrition Cohort and the Cancer Prevention Study-3. They followed the participants over the course of five years, and none of them had a previous history of cancer. 

While several factors were taken into consideration, two came out as the biggest risks for developing any kind of cancer: older age and smoking status. The risk of developing cancer of any kind was higher for any current or former smokers (within 30 years of quitting) and participants over the age of 50; the risk was 25% higher for women and nearly 30% higher for men. 

The researchers also noted some risk factors that were specific to gender. For women, having a hysterectomy or tubal ligation, a high body mass index (BMI), high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes all increase the risk of cancer. For men, red meat consumption and alcohol intake proved to be dangerous to long-term health outcomes. A family history of cancer and a lack of physical activity were likely to increase the risk of cancer among both men and women. 

The researchers hope their findings will help health care providers better identify those who may need preventative cancer care. 

“As we consider the possibility that future tests may be able to identify several types of cancer, we need to begin understanding who is most at risk for developing any type of cancer,” Dr. Patel said. “These types of data are not widely available, but necessary to inform future screening options, such as blood-based multi-cancer early detection tests that could help save lives.” 

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