How do I evaluate my risk of getting cancer?

According to the National Cancer Institute, a risk factor is something that may increase the chance of developing a disease. There are four types of risk factors for cancer — behavioral, biological, environmental and genetic.

Behavioral risk factors are those that can be changed by a person, such as smoking, exercising, dieting, tanning and drinking alcohol. You can reduce your risk of cancer, for example, by quitting smoking, engaging in more physical activities, protecting yourself from the sun and UV rays or eating healthier.

Biological risk factors are physical characteristics, such as gender, age, race and skin complexion. Biological risk factors cannot be changed, but it is important to understand your risks due to your biological background. For example, if you are a man over 50 you may want to research the types of cancer for which a man over 50 is at risk.

Environmental risk factors are those that are found in your surroundings, such as asbestos, radon, sun, secondhand smoke, pollution or pesticides. One example of reducing these risks is checking your home for pollutants.

According to the NCI, scientists believe that there are protective factors, such as eating fruits and vegetables, which may help in reducing the risk of developing cancers caused by environmental factors.

Genetic risk factors are those that relate to genes inherited from your family, where a history of cancer diagnoses can indicate a genetic risk factor.

It is always best to discuss your cancer risk with your doctor.

For more information, contact Courtney Britton, librarian at Cancer Services of Greater Baton Rouge, at (225) 927-2273,, or visit the Education Center at 550 Lobdell Ave., Baton Rouge.

ä Internet Resources:

Stay Healthy – ACS

Disease Risk Index – Harvard School of Public Health

NCI: Causes and Prevention

This column is presented as a service by Cancer Services of Greater Baton Rouge, a United Way affiliate.