Mutations are caused when a cell's DNA is damaged. Sometimes mutations cause cancer but this is not always the case. Anything that causes a cancer is also sometimes called a carcinogen.
More exposure to anything that causes mutations will increase the chance of developing cancer. For example, having one x-ray in hospital is not likely to cause any problems. However, the technicians who take many x-rays each day need to protect themselves by standing behind a lead shield which prevents them getting high levels of exposure.
Ultraviolet radiation and skin cancer
Sunshine contains ultraviolet radiation. This can cause mutations in skin cells, especially if it is not protected by high factor sunscreen. As with all carcinogens, the greater the exposure, the greater the risk. people who sunbathe for long periods or who use sunbeds a lot are putting themselves at greater risk of developing skin cancer.
This sunbather is increasing her risk of developing skin cancer in later life. Ultraviolet radiation in sunlight can lead to the development of a melanoma, like the one shown on this older person. Using sunblock can help to reduce the risk.
Lung cancer, probably caused by smoking, is one of the most common cancers in the United Kingdom. Unfortunately it is also one of the hardest to treat. About 33,000 people will die each year from lung cancer in the UK.
90% of lung cancers are related to smoking. Carcinogens in the tobacco smoke cause mutations in the lung cells that can develop into cancer. Even passive smoking (breathing in someone else's cigarette smoke) can have an effect. Evidence is starting to suggest that children who are exposed to their parents' smoke may be at a higher risk of developing cancer in later life.
What is the chance of lung cancer?
Lung cancer is rarely diagnosed in people below the age of 40. However, smoking before then greatly increases the chances of developing lung cancer later in life.
It is best to not smoke at all. Stopping smoking can reduce the chances of developing lung cancer by more than 90 percent, if done early enough.
Look at the information in the graphs and tables. Is lung cancer something that a young person should worry about? What could be done to reduce the chances of developing lung cancer when you get older? What things could the Government do? What things would you be happy for the Government to do?
Look at the types of cancer below. In each case, decide whether the cancer is linked with smoking. Click on the radio buttons to show your choice.
* It is difficult to directly link a specific cancer with a specific cause. However, studies have looked at hundreds of thousands of people to see whether smokers have a higher chance of developing a particular cancer. This gives an indication that smoking is linked with the development of that cancer.