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Study Finds Lifestyle a Primary Cause of Cancer

Publication: KXAN-TV (NBC), Austin

Strong progress is being made in fighting certain cancers, but your survival rate depends on what type of cancer you have and how early you catch it. Now, a new study by Cancer Research UK is turning the medical world on its head, suggesting up to 90 percent of cancers are the result of your lifestyle, not your genes.

For years, most studies and the prevailing opinion was that most cancers involved your genes, in other words: bad DNA and bad luck. But if most cancers relate to your environment and lifestyle, then they are preventable. Just how much? Dr. Jeff Yorio at Texas Oncology, says, “What can we control and how we prevent these cancers is probably more than 30 percent but maybe less than 90 percent.

Tobacco has been linked to one-third of all cancers, including lung, kidney, bladder, esophagus, stomach and pancreas. Sunbathing has been linked to melanoma and carcinoma. Diet and obesity are connected to stomach, colon and uterus cancer. And drinking has been linked to liver, stomach and pancreatic cancer. Dr. Yorio says, “What can we do in moderation? Probably a steak now and then is not a bad thing, but a steak twice a day is probably not a good thing.”

A number of cancers are genetic that run in families, such as breast, colon and ovarian cancer. All you can do is screen for them and catch them early. According to Dr. Punit Chadha at Texas Oncology, “It is bad luck for some folks but I would tell you that’s really a minority of the cases we see.”

So, if more cancers are preventable than we thought, we know what we have to do. Dr. Chadha advises, “Not using tobacco, limiting alcohol consumption as little as possible. Lifestyle modifications in terms of preventing obesity, obesity is a direct link to several forms of cancer.”

Lung cancer remains the number one cancer killer in America. Despite some modest progress treating it, it still claims 160,000 lives a year.

In 1975, the overall five-year survival rate for all combined cancers was 50 percent. By 2005, the five-year survival rate of all cancers had improved to 67 percent and climbing.

New immunotherapy medications and better screening have led to significant improvements—most of all in melanoma, breast cancer, colorectal cancer and certain forms of leukemia. Other cancers remain stubbornly lethal, showing only small improvements in lung, liver and pancreatic cancers. Virtually every form of cancer has a better chance of survival with early detection.