There are over 100 types of cancer that can occur in the human body. From the eyes to the brain to the bones, cancer can affect any and every organ and system in our bodies. For people who have a history of cancer in their family, developing the disease often seems inevitable.
But is that really the case?
With a history of cancer in your family, you could be at greater risk for developing it yourself. But there are several things that you can do and several steps that you can start taking right now to reduce your risk.
Here’s how to plan if cancer runs in your family.
Understand the Risk
Just because family members have been diagnosed with cancer doesn’t mean that you’re destined to get it too. According to the American Cancer Society, only about 5% to 10% of cancer cases are inherited.
Certain types of cancer, such as breast, prostate, ovarian, and pancreatic cancer can result from a genetic mutation passed onto you by your parents. Other types, such as cervical cancer and lung cancer, are far less likely to be the result of an inherited gene and much more likely to be the result of environmental and behavioral factors.
Provide Your Physician With a Detailed Family Medical History
If there is a history of cancer in your family, let your primary care physician know.
Collect a detailed and thorough medical history from your relatives that includes:
- The type of cancer
- The age at which they were diagnosed
- Whether they are on your maternal or paternal side
Gather this information from your parents and siblings as well as grandparents, aunts and uncles, and nieces and nephews. The more information you can provide your physician, the better.
Ask Your Physician About Genetic Testing
Depending on the type of cancer in your family history, you may want to undergo genetic testing to see if you even have the gene that caused the disease in your relatives.
For example, if breast cancer runs in your family you can get tested to see if you have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic mutation. If stomach cancer runs in your family you can be tested to see if you have a mutation in the CDH1 gene. If you’re concerned about developing melanoma, you can get tested for mutations in the CDKN2A and CDK4 genes.
Should you have genetic mutations, you and your physician can put a plan in place to help reduce your risk for developing cancer.
Undergo Important Health Screenings
One way to minimize your risk for developing cancer is to have more frequent health screenings or start screening at an earlier age than recommended for the population as a whole.
For people at average risk for colon cancer, experts recommend getting a colonoscopy every ten years starting at age 45. However, if colorectal cancer runs in your family, your physician may recommend that you get one at age 30 or get one every year or two.
For people with an average risk of breast cancer, annual mammograms typically start at around age 40. But if breast cancer runs in your family, your physician may want you to begin screenings in your 20s or 30s.
Detecting cancer in its early stages is always best, so need the advice of your physician and get screened when instructed to do so.
Minimize Risky Behaviors
While some types of cancers are the result of inherited genetics, it’s often behaviors that explain why cancer tends to run in families.
Certain behaviors, such as smoking, eating an unhealthy diet, and not exercising are often shared amongst family members. These behaviors can increase your risk for getting cancer. The good news is that you can reduce your risk of developing the disease simply by adopting a healthy lifestyle.
Protect Yourself With the Right Types of Insurance
Whether you develop cancer or not, it’s important to protect yourself (and your financial interests) with high-quality health insurance that limits how much you’ll have to spend out-of-pocket for medical care.
But health insurance isn’t the only type of insurance you’ll need. You should also have disability insurance.
Disability insurance is actually income insurance, a way to collect a portion of your paycheck even if you are too sick or injured to work. Should you ever develop cancer, or any other illness for that matter, disability insurance will provide you with a steady income that you can use to pay your mortgage, credit card bills, utilities, and all other day-to-day expenses.
Read this article from Physicians Thrive to learn about the top disability insurance companies.
Even if cancer runs in your family there’s no guarantee that you will get it. But you do need to take some extra steps to reduce your risk.
First and foremost, collect your family medical history. Speak with your physician about genetic testing and health screenings. Adopt a healthy lifestyle and protect yourself with high-quality healthcare and disability insurance policies.
These practices won’t completely eliminate your risk for developing cancer, but they will reduce your chances.