As society becomes more affluent, so the incidence of cancer can be demonstrated to rise. There could be a number of explanations for this, including increased wealth and improved health care enabling individuals to achieve a greater life expectancy than their grandparents (Gabriel, 2001). People are also surviving previously life-threatening illnesses, such as infectious diseases, major accidents, etc., only to live longer and possibly to develop cancer later in life. We also know that more affluent societies consume higher amounts of convenience foods, alcohol and tobacco, as well as being exposed to higher levels of chemicals and pollutants compared with people living in some less developed parts of the world. All these factors can contribute to an individual developing a malignancy (Venitt, 1978; Cartmel and Reid, 2000; Corner, 2001). Other factors can include past exposure to ionizing radiation, viruses and a genetic disposition (Cartmel and Reid, 2000; Yarbro, 2000a).
This chapter looks at the possible links between specific cancers and the lifestyles that people adopt, together with the environments in which they live. It will also identify the steps that are being taken to minimize the risks and to identify cancers at an earlier stage.
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For centuries, ever since the legendary Ponce de Leon went searching for the elusive Fountain of Youth, people have been looking for ways to slow down the aging process. Medical science has made great strides in keeping people alive longer by preventing and curing disease, and helping people to live healthier lives. Average life expectancy keeps increasing, and most of us can look forward to the chance to live much longer lives than our ancestors.