What Causes Cancer: Cancer Basics (Part 3 of 4)


What causes cancer?” That’s the million-dollar question, and one which is very difficult to answer with any certainty. Exploring ‘Tendencies’ and ‘Triggers’ provide some clues.

What causes cancer: Physical factors

Ask your oncologist, “What causes my cancer?” And the response is usually,”We don’t really know.” Most cancer specialists are highly qualified and extremely committed people, yet they are not able to help you with a clear, unambiguous answer. Cancer is truly a mysterious disease!

The physical process of cancer is well-known. But it is astonishing how little we know about its physical causes. Available research suggest that ‘Tendencies’ and ‘Triggers are what causes cancer, from the physical viewpoint.

1. Tendencies

tendencies and triggers that causes of cancer Tendencies indicate an inclination or predisposition towards cancer, usually due to ethnic, hereditary or genetic factors.

  • For example, middle-aged Caucasian men have a stronger tendency towards colon cancer whereas middle-aged Japanese men have a lower tendency.
  • Middle-aged white women have a higher chance of getting breast cancer than their African-American, Hispanic, and Asian counterparts. But African-American women are more likely to develop more aggressive, more advanced-stage breast cancer that is diagnosed at a young age.

Tendencies are also much stronger in some types of cancers, as compared to others. For example, breast cancer has a stronger hereditary profile as compared to leukemia.

Age is also a factor here. As we grow older, all our body functions including the immune system start to weaken and slow down, making us more susceptible to illness. For example, men are at a higher risk of prostate cancer after they cross 50. The risk increases as they get older. The average age for incidence of prostate cancer is between 65 to 69.

It is important to note that since tendencies are inbuilt, we can’t do much about them. Fortunately, tendencies by themselves are not enough to cause cancer.

2. Triggers

physical causes of cancer

Triggers can arise from the environment or lifestyle factors. For example

  • Environmental factors like prolonged exposure to the sun’s UV rays can trigger skin cancer. Prolonged exposure to asbestos can trigger a rare cancer called mesothelioma.
  • When it comes to lifestyle habits, chewing tobacco may trigger mouth cancer. A largely red meat/low-fibre diet may trigger bowel cancer.

In rare cases, viruses can also be triggers for what causes cancer. For example, the human papilloma virus (HPV) can trigger cervical cancer. Hepatitis B and C viruses can trigger liver cancer.

Unlike with Tendencies, we have a lot of influence and control over Triggers … most people tend to ignore or neglect this!

Tendencies & triggers explain many things, but not everything

lifestyle issues is what causes cancer Tendencies and triggers provide a simpler framework to understand what causes cancer. But pinpointing the precise cause still remains tricky. It is important to note that tendencies and Ttriggers can overlap at times, and at others, remain mutually exclusive. For example:

  • Person X may be a smoker, who comes from a family with a history of lung cancer. But she may not get it despite having both the Tendency and the Trigger.
  • Person Y may get lung cancer even if there is no hereditary precedent. He is also not a smoker and thus there is no discernible Tendency or Trigger.

Due to such overlaps, it is hard to understand what causes cancer. However, tendencies and triggers provide very valuable insights. They alert us to make behavioral changes as quickly as possible and improve our chances of preventing cancer.


  • What underlying Tendencies and Triggers can you identify in your life?
  • What lifestyle changes can you make to correct your Triggers?
  • Based on these Tendencies and Triggers, what treatment options or combinations can you consider?
  • What are the first steps you can take … who or what will keep you on track?
  • How have other people you know – including your loved ones – managed their Triggers? What can you learn from them?

More from this series

Title About the article
Part 1: The Cell That Forgot To Die Talking openly about cancer is difficult because the cancer experience forces us to confront our own mortality or at least our vulnerability, and that is not something we share so easily.
Part 2: Staging Staging is a method of evaluating the progress of cancer in a patient. Doctors examine the tumor and the extent to which it has spread to other parts of the body. This helps them know how far the cancer is and based on this, decide on the best course of treatment.
Part 3: What Causes Cancer While much is known about the physical process of cancer, it is astonishing how little we know about its physicalcauses. Available research shows that there are two (physical) causes of cancer – tendencies and triggers.
Part 4: Medical Treatments Mainstream (allopathic) cancer treatment includes surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and biotherapy.


  1. I want to know about mental cell lukemia. After 6 chemotherapies my father was absolute fine but after a gap of 1.5 years he got some limphnodes on his legs. After biopsy, that was not healed till now. and more limphnodes occured even treatment is going on of chemotherapies of 12 sittings. what do we do now.

    • Dear Surekha, thanks for writing in. We would highly recommend that you supplement the medical treatments with a holistic and integrated approach … most people find this to be very beneficial.


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