Understanding Family History of Cancer Risk Factors

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Update Date 15/09/2020 . 4 mins read
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There are many factors that may increase cancer risk, like your lifestyle, diet, exposure to certain substances, and genetic makeup. But none of these are solely responsible for causing cancer. 

One’s genetic makeup is perhaps the greatest indicator of personal cancer risk and probability. Genetic makeup, which includes your race of origin and family history of cancer, plays a role in your susceptibility to different types of cancer.

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Understanding Family History of Cancer Risk Factors

According to the World Health Organization, 1 in every 6 deaths worldwide is because of cancer. Cancer is the second leading cause of death globally, falling just behind heart disease

There is no singular, definite factor or indication that causes cancer. It also affects different age groups. And each cancer type has its own demographics and age-group susceptibility.

family history of cancer risk factors

In general, the likelihood of getting cancer increases with age. One’s family history of cancer risk factors also becomes important in helping determine the probability of cancer. 

So what exactly is cancer? Cancer is a general term that describes the abnormal reproduction, growth and spread of the body’s cells. It begins when new cells, meant to replace the old cells of the body, multiply rapidly beyond their genetic boundaries. 

Cancer cells then overcrowd spaces meant for normal cells. Some types of cancer cells form into tumors. Tumors are simply massive, solid blocks of cancer cells, which often require surgery to remove.

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Cancer can start anywhere, with its origin usually determining its type. 

Each type is further categorized into “stages”, which determine the extent and spread of the cancer. There are four stages. Stage one indicates the early stages of cancer, while stage four, being the highest, indicates a more progressive form. 

Cancer is usually treated using chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, or a combination of the three, depending on the type and stage of the cancer. 

Considering family history of cancer risk factors

It is a common misconception that if your family has a history of cancer, then you are automatically susceptible as well. Some cancer types, however, have a higher chance of being inherited.

These include breast, bowel, uterine, colorectal, womb, and ovarian cancer. You have a higher risk of developing these if your family has a history. 

However, genetics are almost negligible compared to other factors, such as lifestyle and aging.

Overeating, smoking, and drinking could result in higher cancer risk than family history by itself.

However, it is best to be aware of your own susceptibility, especially if you have a family history of cancer.

Screening for cancer usually begins earlier if you have a family history of a certain type of cancer.

Here are a few questions to help you better assess family history of cancer risk factors.

  • Do you have immediate family (father, mother, siblings) and close (1st degree) relatives who have developed the same cancer types? Be alert to cancer types that are known to be linked to genetics, such as breast, colorectal, and ovarian cancer. 
  • Do you have relatives who have developed cancer before the age of 50? 
  • Do you have relatives who have been diagnosed with more than one type of cancer?

So what do you do if your close family members have a history of cancer? We suggest doing the following.

Learn more about your family history of cancer

Check your family history, and identify the most common cancer types that your family members have been diagnosed with, if any.

This helps determine your susceptibility to  possible cancer and allows your doctors to come up with more informed health and/or treatment plans for you.  

Get tested 

If one of your family members has a history of cancer, consult your doctor to see whether you need to be screened or undergo any tests as well. 

These tests could involve observing possible symptoms, like changes in a wart or mole, inspecting lumps or growths or asking you about changes in your bladder or bowel movements.

Change your lifestyle 

If one of your family members has a history of cancer, it is advised that you avoid smoking and drinking. Quitting tobacco, most especially, not only benefits your overall health, but also the health of your family members. Second-hand smoking, for example, is known to cause cancer.

family history of cancer risk factors

Ways to minimize family history of cancer risk factors

Here are a few tips you can apply in your daily life to reduce your chances of developing cancer.    

Avoid smoking 

Cigarettes are known to have at least 70 types of carcinogens or cancer-causing agents.

Both smokers and those who inhale second-hand smokes can be affected. So it is best to kick the habit and keep away from those who smoke to minimize cancer risk.  

Maintain a healthy weight

Maintaining a healthy weight is ideal for those who want to reduce cancer risk. This is because weight gain and obesity are known to increase the risk of cancer.

Be physically active 

Get at least 30 minutes of physical fitness each day. Boosting your heart rate and toning your body are great ways to reduce your risk of  developing cancer. 

Eat less processed foods 

Processed foods may contain chemicals and ingredients harmful to your body. Even something as basic as sugar can be harmful if consumed in excessive amounts. If you wish to minimize cancer risk, try eating more fresh produce.

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Increase nutritional intake 

Include more vegetables and fruits in your diet. The vitamins and minerals in them help boost your immunity and minimize the risk of chronic conditions, such as diabetes and cancer.

Use sunscreen 

Prolonged exposure to UV rays may cause skin cancer. It’s best to use sunscreen to minimize skin damage.

Work-life balance

A stressful lifestyle increases the likelihood of cancer. That is why it is important to achieve and maintain work-life balance. 

Get enough sleep

A good night’s sleep gives the body time to repair itself and recuperate. It’s also a relaxing activity that helps remove stress after a tiring day. 

Key Takeaways

Even though there is a small probability of cancer being genetically inherited, it is best to be aware of your family history of cancer and be prepared. The age-old medical wisdom of “prevention is better than cure” still applies.

Learn more about cancer causes, risk factors, and prevention, here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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