Indian Journal of Multidisciplinary Dentistry

: 2018  |  Volume : 8  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 55--56

Increasing cancer burden: Time to modify lifestyle behaviours

S Leena Sankari 
 Professor, Department of Oral Pathology and Microbiology, Sree Balaji Dental College and Hospitals, Affiliated to Bharath Institute of Higher Education and Research, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India

Correspondence Address:
S Leena Sankari
Professor, Department of Oral Pathology and Microbiology, Sree Balaji Dental College and Hospitals, Affiliated to Bharath Institute of Higher Education and Research, Chennai, Tamil Nadu

How to cite this article:
Sankari S L. Increasing cancer burden: Time to modify lifestyle behaviours.Indian J Multidiscip Dent 2018;8:55-56

How to cite this URL:
Sankari S L. Increasing cancer burden: Time to modify lifestyle behaviours. Indian J Multidiscip Dent [serial online] 2018 [cited 2019 Jan 17 ];8:55-56
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Full Text

Data by World Health Organization reveals that cancer is the second leading cause of death globally and is responsible for an estimated 9.6 million deaths in 2018. Cancer involves a multistage transformation of normal cells into tumor cells. This transformation arises as a result of the interaction between a person's genetic factors and external agents, such as ionizing and nonionizing radiations; chemical carcinogens, such as asbestos, components of tobacco smoke, mycotoxins such as aflatoxins and fumonisins (food contaminants), arsenic (a drinking water contaminant); and biological carcinogens, such as infections from certain viruses, bacteria, or fungi. Approximately 15% of cancers diagnosed in 2012 were attributed to carcinogenic infections, including Helicobacter pylori, human papillomavirus, hepatitis B virus, hepatitis C virus, and Epstein–Barr virus.

All said, much of the cancer burden can be traced to certain modifiable factors that increase ones risk for it. Around one-third of deaths from cancer are due to the following five leading behavioral and dietary risks: high body mass index, low fruit and vegetable intake, lack of physical activity, tobacco use, and alcohol use. Globally, 7% of cancers in men and 5% of cancers in women were attributable to insufficient intake of fruits and vegetables. The plausible mechanisms for protective effects of fruits and vegetables could be by reducing oxidative damage of DNA or increasing the activity of enzymes that can detoxify carcinogens.[1] Low fruit and vegetable intake caused 17% of gastric cancer and 11% of lung cancer mortality globally.[2] Body weight and physical activity have strong effects on metabolic factors related to colorectal cancer, the cancer that is most affected by these two risk factors. Globally, around 20% of colorectal cancers were caused by physical inactivity. Physical activity is said to decrease the gastrointestinal transit time, thereby minimizing contact of the gastrointestinal tract with potential carcinogens in the stool. By interacting with the adrenaline system to reduce the levels of circulating estrogens, physical activity may result in delayed menarche or a delay in the onset of regular ovulatory menstrual cycles, factors known to be associated with lower lifelong risk for breast cancer. Physical inactivity is a significant risk factor for female breast cancer, causing 25% of breast cancer mortality.[3] Tobacco (smoking and/or chewing) and alcohol use is the most important risk factor for cancer and is responsible for approximately 22% of cancer deaths including lung, oral, pharyngeal, and laryngeal and esophageal cancers. It is definitely a double trouble when these habits are combined significantly elevating the risk of cancer. Alcohol increases the risk of cancer by metabolizing ethanol into acetaldehyde which is a potent carcinogen, also generating reactive oxygen species which can damage DNA, proteins, and lipids in the body. It would not be complete if I don't stress upon “stress.” Although the link between cancer and stress seems to be faint, researches provide evidence that everyday emotional stress is a trigger for growth of tumors. The incidence of cancer also rises dramatically with age due to an increase build-up of risks and less effective repair mechanisms.

Almost 30%–50% of cancers can be prevented by avoiding these risk factors and implementing the existing evidence-based prevention strategies. Planning of preventive health policies and programs that aim to reduce exposure to modifiable risk factors needs to be on top priority, incorporating all the available research. An healthy life style should be encouraged right from childhood through the adulthood. Educational programs supporting this goal should be also be designed and incorporated in all stages of life. It's high time we change the way we live!

I feel this remark would be more suitable to end this editorial: “Dear Cancer, I hope one day you are just a zodiac sign.”

I thank the editorial board for giving me this opportunity to think, reflect, and share my thoughts. Readers are welcome to share their views and suggestions at


1Available from: [Last accessed on 2018 Sep 12].
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3McTiernan A, Ulrich C, Slate S, Potter J. Physical activity and cancer etiology: Associations and mechanisms. Cancer Causes Control 1998;9:487-509.