Newswise — Lots of things have been associated with higher risks of developing certain cancers. But there are very few things that have been proven to have a cause-and-effect relationship.

“For 99 percent of people who get cancer – especially adults – there is no one specific thing they did that absolutely caused it,” says Dr. Ray Hohl, director of Penn State Hershey Cancer Institute.

With some cancers, science has proven that certain lifestyle choices play a big part. For instance, most people know that if you spend years using tobacco, you’re more likely to develop lung cancer. And those who frequent tanning parlors and spend lots of time outdoors without using sunscreen are much more likely to develop skin cancers.

Think of cancer as a problem with the body’s normal cells maturing and functioning normally. The cells disrespect boundaries, and multiply in an unregulated way. They invade neighboring tissues and spread via the bloodstream and lymph glands to other parts of the body. Essentially, the cells fail to shut down when they should.

In the past decade, scientists have shown that certain types of breast, prostate and colon cancers are hereditary and tend to run in families. When a cancer patient is tested and found to have certain genetic mutations, medical professionals can then counsel relatives about early screening and how to better manage their risk.

Rather than excessively worrying over the latest report that red meat may be linked to certain lower intestinal cancers and forbidding yourself to consume any, a better course of action would be to enjoy your burgers and steaks in moderation.

“You can be extremely careful, avoid certain things and still develop cancer,” Hohl says. “It is a disease of aging – the older we get, the more we are likely to develop it because of how long the cells in our bodies have been exposed to things in our environment.”

Common sense strategies for staying healthy that have been taught for years are the best course of action when it comes to cancer prevention, Hohl says. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables every day. Enjoy sweets and red meat in moderation. Move your body, stay very active and continue to exercise throughout life. Drink alcohol only in moderation and don’t smoke.

Oh, and be happy. More often, studies are showing that patients who are more upbeat have bodies that respond to cancer cells or cancer treatment in more effective ways.

“Your mood affects many chemicals in the blood,” Hohl says. “In the oncology world, we used to think of it as ‘well, that’s nice,’ but we didn’t know what to make of it. Now, we are increasingly understanding there is something to that.”

The Medical Minute is a weekly health news feature brought to you by Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Articles feature the expertise of Penn State Hershey faculty physicians and staff, and are designed to offer timely, relevant health information of interest to a broad audience.

Register for reporter access to contact details