Internal Causes of Cancer
Internal causes of cancer: Certain factors in the body make some people more prone to developing cancer than others. For instance, some people either inherit or acquire the following conditions: altered genes in the body’s cells, abnormal hormone levels in the bloodstream, or a weakened immune system. Each of these factors may make an individual more susceptible to cancer.
One of the ways scientists know that genes play an important role in the development of cancer is from studying certain rare families where family members over several generations develop similar cancers. It appears that these families are passing on an altered gene that carries with it a high chance of getting cancer. Several genes that greatly increase a person’s chance of developing certain cancers (e.g., colon, breast, and ovary) have been identified. Only a very small percentage of people in the general population have abnormal copies of these genes. Cancers caused by these genes, known as familial cancers, account for only two to five percent of all cancers.
Gene alterations may also contribute to individual differences in susceptibility to environmental carcinogens (cancer-causing substances). For instance, people differ in their ability to eliminate cancer-causing agents from their body to which they have been exposed, or to repair DNA damage that was caused by such agents. These gene alterations may also be passed on in families and account for higher rates of cancer in these families. Higher rates of cancer in families may also be related to shared environmental exposures like diet or exposure to carcinogens at work.
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