Sometimes deodorant causes cancer

What are the causes and risk factors for cancer?

Cancer can have many causes. It arises from the complex interplay of lifestyle, environmental influences, previous illnesses and our daily environment. A genetic predisposition can also play a role if cells grow uncontrollably and tumors develop. However, sometimes cancer just develops for no reason - through accidental errors in cell division. Therefore, the risk of developing cancer cannot be completely eliminated. However, a healthy lifestyle can significantly reduce your own risk.

Science still doesn't have a clear answer to why cancer develops. There are patients who have never smoked but still have lung cancer. Others, on the other hand, have smoked a lot for decades, but luckily they have remained in the best of health. Sometimes we use stories like this to justify unhealthy habits. Sometimes we use it to calm our fear of cancer. In fact, chance also plays a role in the development of cancer that should not be underestimated. Anyone who develops cancer is therefore not “simply to blame” - the causes of an illness are a complex interaction of various influences.

However, it is also certain that there are factors that demonstrably increase the likelihood of developing cancer. This is what this post is about.

How does cancer develop?
From a biological point of view, cancer is degenerate cells that divide faster than healthy cells. Such a malignant tumor, the so-called malignant tumor, grows in an uncontrolled manner and displaces healthy cells. Individual cancer cells can detach themselves from the tumor and "spread" to other areas or organs of the body. This can cause new tumors (metastases) to form. The immune system does not recognize the cancer cells as pathological and does not act against them.

What influence does lifestyle have on cancer risk?


The most well-known risk factor for almost every type of cancer is smoking. Smokers are at a significantly higher risk of numerous cancers, including colon and pancreatic cancer. The best known is lung cancer, which smokers are eight times more likely to develop than non-smokers. Even secondhand smoke at home or at work can increase the risk of cancer. Do you want to quit smoking? The Barmer online training on smoking cessation offers you a playful approach to a smoke-free life.

Diet, Alcohol, and Exercise

What we add to our body every day has a major impact on our health. Those who consume processed meat products and red meat, as well as charred or moldy foods, have a higher risk of cancer. Sedentary lifestyle and being very overweight can also increase the risk of cancer. You can prevent cancer by maintaining a healthy weight through a balanced diet with plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits, as well as exercise. You can find detailed information in our topic specials on healthy eating and exercise and fitness.

Familial cancer burden

Some cancers and cancers can run in families. Genes that are associated with an increased risk of cancer can be inherited. If you have close relatives such as your parents or grandparents, for example, colon cancer or breast cancer, you yourself may also have an increased risk. Regular early diagnosis examinations can then help to discover a disease as early as possible.

Some of these “cancer genes” are already known, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2, which can lead to breast cancer. If there is any suspicion, medical tests can be used to find out whether you yourself carry such genes. If that is the case, it does not mean that cancer has to break out, but that you are at an increased risk. Whether you want to have the test carried out is a very personal decision. If you have relatives with cancer, you can talk to your family doctor about your cancer risk.

Can environmental influences be a risk factor for cancer?

UV rays

Short-wave ultraviolet (UV) rays can cause normal cells to turn into cancer cells. This applies to both sunlight and solariums. In the long term, they can change the genetic makeup of the skin (mutations), for example after increased sunburn. If the DNA is damaged, cells can grow uncontrollably - skin cancer develops.


Those who have regular contact with certain pollutants and chemical substances in the workplace can have a higher risk of cancer. Asbestos is responsible for around 80 percent of occupational cancers. It is no longer allowed to build with it, but you can still come into contact with it during renovation or demolition work. Other potentially carcinogenic substances (carcinogens) in the workplace are, for example, heavy metals, chromium, nickel, benzene, diesel or wood dust. People in high-risk professions can protect themselves by following safety regulations and, for example, wearing suitable respiratory masks.

There are also some myths surrounding carcinogens. For example, amalgam in tooth fillings, electromagnetic radiation from cell phones or aluminum in deodorants are said to promote the development of tumors. There is no reliable scientific evidence for this.

Radiation exposure

Certain medical diagnostic methods and therapies use high-energy, so-called ionizing radiation. These methods include, for example, X-ray examinations or radiation therapy against tumors. Before they are used, the risk and benefit are weighed up against each other: Doctors should investigate justified suspicions, but avoid unnecessary procedures. Duplicate examinations, e.g. when changing doctors, can be avoided if the patient brings old X-rays with them.

Radon is a radioactive gas that occurs naturally everywhere. It accumulates in caves, mines or tunnels. It can also penetrate the building basement through unsealed floor slabs. In Germany, vigorous ventilation is usually enough to greatly reduce the radon concentration indoors. If, on the other hand, basement rooms such as workshops, hobby rooms or even bedrooms in affected areas are insufficiently ventilated, there is an increased risk of cancer.

How are infections and cancer related?

Cancer is not contagious. However, there are forms of cancer that can be caused by infection, such as human papillomavirus (HPV). The connection with the HIV virus is different: the infection itself does not increase the personal cancer risk, but an outbreak of AIDS weakens the body's immune system - the result is a higher cancer risk.
The World Health Organization recommends vaccinating children against certain infectious diseases to protect them from certain cancers. These are the hepatitis B vaccination for newborns and later the HPV vaccination for children and adolescents.

Can mental illness have an impact on cancer risk?

Persistent stress and mental illness are also seen by many as risk factors for cancer. However, so far there is no scientific evidence that emotional problems can be the direct cause of cancer.
With one caveat: People who are stressed, unhappy, or depressed tend to lead an unhealthy lifestyle more often: Patients eat processed foods more often, drink more alcohol and are more likely to smoke. This unhealthy lifestyle in turn increases the risk of some types of cancer. Those who suffer from depression also take part less often in early detection examinations or may ignore initial warnings of an illness.

For similar reasons it is discussed whether poverty and cancer play together. Poor people may be at greater risk of cancer because they smoke and drink more alcohol. A lack of education can also contribute to the fact that the foods in a healthy diet are unknown or neglected in the daily diet.

A healthy lifestyle can never hurt!
A healthy life has many advantages for body and soul that go beyond cancer prevention: Regular exercise, a varied diet and sufficient relaxation have a positive effect on our overall quality of life.

A plea for early cancer detection

Since cancer also depends on genes and chance, regular screening tests can help to detect it at least early. Because the earlier cancer is recognized and treated, the better the chances of recovery. There are cancer screening programs for some types of cancer.
Since the risk of developing cancer increases over the years, regular early diagnosis examinations are useful from a certain age onwards. For women, this is, for example, mammography, i.e. an X-ray examination of the breast, for early breast cancer detection between the ages of 50 and 69 years (every two years). An annual prostate examination is recommended for men aged 45 and over.
If close relatives have cancer, you may be at higher risk of developing the disease yourself. For some types of cancer, doctors can use a genetic test to determine whether someone is carrying the contaminated gene. There are reasons for and against such a test that you can talk to your GP about if you have a family history of cancer.

Where does our previous knowledge about the development of cancer come from?

In fact, it is often difficult to pinpoint a clear cause of cancer development. Scientists have been studying what causes cancer for many years.
The science that studies the spread and causes of disease is epidemiology. It uses the now large amount of data and information from the so-called disease registers to draw conclusions about risks and influencing factors. So one can say: if someone is exposed to these or those factors, the likelihood of developing this or that type of cancer increases. Other areas of science help to ensure that this connection is really “causal”, that is, that it is not a coincidence. In pathophysiology, for example, researchers from various disciplines are looking, among other things, for the causes of damage to cells and genetic material, which in turn cause cancer.

We have no control over some factors such as genetics or chance. We can change others, like our lifestyle. In this way we can reduce our risk of developing cancer. We have put together tips for you on how you can prevent cancer.