Cancer and your health

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What is cancer?

Cancer is a condition in which the cells of your body grow and divide in an uncontrolled way, these cells can spread to other parts of the body through the blood and lymph systems (metastasize) and can begin growing uncontrollably in a new part of the body. Cancer is not just one disease – more than 100 different types of cancer are known. Different cancers will respond to different treatments and can grow or spread at different rates.

 

Why is cancer a concern?
Cancer is a common disease. In Colorado, about 1 in 2 men and 2 in 5 women will be diagnosed with some form of cancer in their lifetimes (excluding the very common squamous and basal cell cancers of the skin). Cancer is a leading cause of death in Colorado. About 25,000 Coloradans are diagnosed each year and about 7,600 die each year from cancer.
 
What is known about cancer and the environment?
Environmental exposures can increase risk for developing cancer, but many factors acting together lead to the development of a cancer. A person’s genetic make-up, lifestyle choices, types of environmental exposures, levels of environmental exposures, and other factors all interact to determine whether a cancer will develop in any individual.
 
Who is at risk?
Everyone is at risk of developing some type of cancer and certain risk factors can increase the chance that a person will develop cancer. But, having one or more risk factors does not mean that you will get cancer. Some of the most common risk factors include:
  • Getting older. Most cancers (about 85%) are diagnosed in people over 50 years old.
  • Tobacco use
  • Radiation, ultraviolet and ionizing
  • Certain chemicals and other substances
  • Family history of cancer
  • Alcohol use
  • Poor diet and inactive lifestyle
  • Being overweight
  • Some viruses and bacteria
  • Certain hormones
How can risk be reduced?
It is important to remember that different cancers have different risk factors and many of the most common risk factors can be avoided. You can decrease your chances of developing cancer by:
  • Not smoking. If you do smoke, quit.
  • Following your doctor’s advice for recommended cancer screenings
  • Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Being physically active
  • Limiting alcohol intake
  • Avoiding exposure to excessive ultraviolet rays from the sun and from tanning beds
  • Following safety tips to avoid or reduce exposure to harmful substances such as asbestos, radon pesticides, solvents, and other chemicals
How is cancer tracked?
The Tracking Network uses data from two programs in the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment:
  • The Colorado Central Cancer Registry (CCCR) at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is tasked with tracking cancers diagnosed and treated in Colorado residents. Colorado state law makes cancer a reportable disease, and the CCCR receives cancer case reports from a variety of sources such as hospitals, treatment centers, pathology laboratories, and physician offices. The CCCR uses the information it gathers to track cancer rates (incidence) and survival rates over time for each type of cancer.
  • The Health Statistics Section records every death due to cancer in the state. Deaths are recorded as being due to cancer when the cancer was the primary cause of death. A person may die from other causes but have active cancer at the same time.
What is a cancer cluster?
A cancer cluster occurs when a larger than expected number of cancer cases is found in a group of people, a defined geographic area, or during a specific period of time. Because cancer is not just one disease and is fairly common, it is not unusual or unexpected to find a mix of different types of cancers in a group of people or given geography, for example, in a neighborhood.