How Much Do Lifestyle Factors Actually Contribute To Cancer Risk?

According to Penn Medicine, your lifestyle can affect your risk of getting certain types of cancers. For example, smoking not only contributes to your likelihood of getting lung cancer, but it can also increase your risk of cancers in other areas of the body such as the stomach, pancreas, or bladder. Alcohol increases your risk of liver cancer as well as cancers in the mouth, throat, or breast, to name a few. And a poor diet and obesity also put you at risk for colon, breast, kidney, and thyroid, as well as other types of cancers.

Although you have a choice when it comes to your lifestyle, a recent study in the journal Cancer found that your risk of certain cancers depends on whether you are male or female. The researchers analyzed the health records of more than 171,000 males and 122,000 females, noting their differences in lifestyle and the incidence of cancer. After factoring out these lifestyle choices, the study found that men had lower incidences of thyroid and gallbladder cancers. However, men were at a higher risk of most other cancers in which both genders share the same anatomy.

The sex disparity in cancer risk

In a news release about the study, lead scientist Dr. Sarah S. Jackson of the National Cancer Institute said, "Our results show that there are differences in cancer incidence that are not explained by environmental exposures alone. This suggests that there are intrinsic biological differences between men and women that affect susceptibility to cancer," via EurekAlert.

A report published in the journal Cancer noted that other studies concluded similar sex disparities in cancer research. Some studies have found that certain cancer therapies work better for males, and other therapies work better for females. The report credited the new study for looking at how people's lifestyle choices interplay with sex in the risk of certain types of cancers. However, it also pointed out that more research will be needed to include the transgender population.

Jackson also told Healthline that because the study mostly included a non-Hispanic white population, future research needs to see if these sex differences also exist in other ethnic groups.