The media today especially the internet has made people too anxious about their risk of exposure to cancer. When you search the internet, almost every tech device or manufactured consumer product has been listed as a possible risk element for cancer. As a media consumer, how can you tell what’s legit info and what’s not?
Through this article, we seek to create some perspective by helping you understand what cancer risk actually is and how it is measured.
What is cancer risk?
In research, when a scientist uses the term “risk”, he/she issimply talking about probability. This is basically the chance that a particular thing or event may occur, but it is not guaranteed that it will actually occur. In cancer research,a lot of the focus is usually put on studying large groups of people with the aim of determining the probability that any one individual or a category of individuals will develop cancer over a certain period of time. The research will also seek to establish the characteristics or behaviors that are associated with the increase or decrease in the risk of developing cancer.
This is how risk is expressed
Risk is categorized into two – absoluterisk and relative risk.
Absolute risk is the actual numeric probability that an individual or group of individuals will develop cancer over a specified duration of time e.g. within the next five years, by the age of 55, by the age of 75 or during the course of their lifetime. One instance of absolute risk is the statistic that indicates that at least 16 menin every group of 100 men are going to develop prostate cancer in the course oftheir lifetime.
Relative risk on the other hand compares in terms of ratio and not absolute values. It will focus on the relationship between the specific risk factors and the specific type of cancers, focusing on comparing certain traits experienced within a group of people vis a vis the number of cancers that exist within that group and vice versa. In simpler terms, if we take lung cancer as an example, risk of lung cancer will be expressed in this way – People who smoke are 23 times likelier to contract lung cancer as compared to people who do not smoke. This therefore means that for people who smoke, the relative risk of lung cancer is 23.
Risk is determined through research and not guessing. So, the next time you come across some piece of information on the internet referring to your cancer risk, be sure to do a little bit of extra digging before you unnecessarily make life altering decisions.