Smokers, insomniacs, social drinkers, and those whose father died of disease seem to be in the highest risk group for cancer. Check our survey results here.
When young people get cancer, it is largely genetic. In older people it seems to be linked often to lifestyle choices.
One in every 33 South Africans between the ages of 30 and 49 has been diagnosed with cancer. And if you're between 20 and 29 and your father has died of cancer, best you get yourself checked out regularly.
There's no question about it – more people are getting cancer. In fact, studies have shown that 90% of cancers are caused by the environment. Frightening, but it also means it can be beaten if the world were to be made a less toxic place.
Where our stats come from
Business first: where did our stats come from? Just over 15 000 people filled in Health24’s Health of the Nation Survey, and the weighted results are representative of 2,5 million South Africans over the age of 20, educated to at least matric level, with a monthly income of over R4 500. If that sounds like you, then this survey is about you.
Cancer and smoking
Among all ages 3.42% of respondents have ever been diagnosed with cancer. This drops about 12% to 2.99% among those who have never smoked. The incidence of cancer rises to almost 6% among those who have given up smoking, which suggests that they might have quit smoking because of a cancer diagnosis.
Among those aged 50 or more, the incidence (ever diagnosed) of cancer is 9.13%. With regard to smoking habits, the highest incidence in this age group is among those who smoke socially and occasionally (11.23%) and the lowest, paradoxically, among those who say they intend to give up (3.50%).
Cancer and alcohol
Among those aged older than 50, the highest incidence of cancer according to current drinking habits is among those who say they drink only when socialising (10.05%). The lowest is among those who say they don’t drink during the week (4.57%) compared to the overall incidence of cancer ever diagnosed of 9.13% in this age group.
The lowest incidence is among those who have given up (1.82%) or who are teetotallers (2.65%) compared to the average for this age group of 2.93%.
Cancer and sleeping patterns
One wouldn't necessarily make a connection between the number of hours someone sleeps and their likelihood of getting cancer. But the stats say something different:
- The incidence of cancer among those who say they sleep less than four hours a night is almost 1 in 10 (9.56%). However this may be related to age, with older people more likely to report sleeping for fewer than four hours.
- Among those aged 55 or older, the highest incidence of cancer according to sleeping hours is among those who say they sleep 4-6 hours (17.29%) compared to 11.21% cancer incidence in this age group.
Almost 1 in 33 (2.93%) of people aged 30-49 have ever been diagnosed with cancer. Among those whose mother died of some reason other than old age or disease (in other words some kind of trauma) this rises by about a third to 3.94%. A similar effect is found for people this age whose father has died, with the largest increase among those whose father has died of disease (3.56%).
Among those aged 20-29, the incidence of cancer is just under 2% (1.80%). This rises to 1.99% among those who say their mother has already died of disease, and to a massive 9.93% among those whose father has already died of disease. In fact, almost half of people this age who have ever been diagnosed with cancer have had their father die of disease.
These findings suggest the incidence of ever being diagnosed with cancer among younger people is largely genetic, while among older people, habits are associated with cancer, either as a response to or as a cause of the diagnosis.
(Susan Erasmus, Health24, October 2008)