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How Your Genes Play a Role in Your Cancer Risk
While there are many actions you can take to reduce your cancer risk - exercise, quit smoking, eat a healthy diet - there are other risks that are inherent to you as a person and that were passed down through your family's genes.
While some types of cancer can run in families, not every cancer patient can point to a genetic connection for their cancer risk. According to the American Cancer Society, cancer is such a common diseases that it’s not uncommon for families to have a few members to have cancer; however, that does not mean they all have the same cancer or that their cancer is genetic.
One way to fully understand your cancer risk or to search for an underlying cause of cancer is genetic testing. Genetic testing isn’t for everyone, but according to the ACS, there are some considerations to review with your doctor:
- Several first-degree relatives (mother, father, sisters, brothers, children) with cancer
- Many relatives on one side of the family who have had the same type of cancer
- A cluster of cancers in your family that are known to be linked to a single gene mutation (such as breast, ovarian, and pancreatic cancers in your family).
- A family member with more than one type of cancer
- Family members who had cancer at a younger age than normal for that type of cancer
- Close relatives with cancers that are linked to rare hereditary cancer syndromes
- A family member with a rare cancer, such as breast cancer in a male or retinoblastoma
- Ethnicity (for example, Jewish ancestry is linked to a higher risk of ovarian and breast cancers)
- A physical finding that’s linked to an inherited cancer (such as having many colon polyps)
- A known genetic mutation in one or more family members who have already had genetic testing.
If you opt for genetic testing, you can then review the results with both your doctor and your family to better understand what the results mean for you and your family cancer risk.