Cancer results when cells grow out of control and form a tumor. The cancer is very serious if the tumor
begins to spread (metastasize) throughout the body.
There are many different types of cancer. They are named based on where the tumor is located, or where it first started growing in the body. The most common forms of cancer are colon, lung, breast and prostate cancer.
Normally, the body makes new cells only when they are needed for growth or repair. This cell growth is controlled by a
group of genes that work together. When one or more of these genes is damaged (mutated), too many cells are produced.
The excess cells clump together to form a tumor, resulting in cancer.
Genes can be mutated by bad chemicals in a person's environment, like tobacco smoke. But more often, damage to growth control genes occurs spontaneously in only a few cells of the body. That's why a tumor is typically found (or at least begins) in just one spot.
Most people who develop cancer have no family history of the disease, meaning their cancer was not inherited. But sometimes the more common cancers (e.g., breast, prostate and colon cancer) can run in families. If a close relative (grandparent, parent, or sibling) has been diagnosed with a common form of cancer, you too may be at risk. Your risk increases if the relative developed the cancer at an early age (typically before age 50-55), or if more than one close relative developed the same cancer.
The best ways to reduce cancer risk may differ slightly for each type of cancer. But here are some general guidelines to follow:
• Perform regular self-examinations.
• See your doctor for periodic screenings (mammograms, colonoscopies).
• If cancer runs in your family, discuss this information with your doctor.
• Maintain a healthy body weight, avoiding obesity.
• Exercise regularly.
• Eat a diet that is high in fiber (whole grains, fruits, vegetables).
Fiber fights colon cancer, yet the average American barely consumes half of the recommended 20-35 grams of fiber per day.
Supported by the Utah Department of Health Chronic Disease Genomics Program through Cooperative Agreement Number U58/CCU822802 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.