A family history of cancer can be intimidating, because it means your risk of getting the disease may be higher compared to those with no family history of cancer. Understanding your risk, however, allows you to take extra precautions to protect you and your family’s health. When you’re armed with the right knowledge and preventative steps, you can enjoy greater peace of mind. As a patient at Regional Cancer Care Associates, you get the opportunity to explore your risk factors and learn ways to lower your genetic cancer risk.
Understand Your Family Health History
The first step is to make sure that you fully understand your family’s cancer health history and how it affects you. Talk to your doctor about which of your family members have had cancer, what type they had, and when they were diagnosed. If any of the following apply, it’s possible that the cancer could be genetically linked:
- A first-degree relative (parent, sibling, child) was diagnosed
- Two or more other relatives (grandparents, uncles, aunts, etc.) were diagnosed
- The diagnosis was made at a younger-than-average age
- The cancer has known genetic factors
- The cancer is common for people of your race
Undergo Genetic Testing
Once it’s established that there’s a high likelihood the cancer in your family is hereditary, you can go for genetic counseling and testing at RCCA. During a genetic test, a sample of your saliva or blood will be taken, and then your DNA will be analyzed. Some people choose to take this extra precaution because it will reveal whether they possess the gene mutations associated with increased risk, but just because a relative has the mutation doesn’t mean it was passed down. Genetic testing will confirm whether it has.
Get Screened and Tested More Frequently
Doctors recommend that people with a family history of cancer go for earlier and more frequent screenings. For example, most men don’t get their first colonoscopy until about age 50. But if you have a family history of colon cancer, it may be best to have a colonoscopy done sooner. The earlier cancer is detected, the better.
Make Healthy Lifestyle Changes
Depending on your family’s cancer history, some lifestyle changes may reduce your risk. For example, your doctor may recommend you quit smoking or maintain a healthy weight. Exercising regularly, reducing your alcohol consumption, and altering your diet also may be advised.
Get Preventative Surgery
In some cases, there are medical and surgical precautions you can take, as well. A woman who has a family history of breast cancer may elect to have a preventative mastectomy to eliminate the possibility of getting breast cancer herself. Other types of preventative surgery options, as well as certain medications, may help reduce your particular risk. Talk to your doctor at RCCA about the best options for you.
Find Out More
Every family is different, so it’s important to get individualized advice from experts you can trust. Regional Cancer Care Associates offers some of the top cancer treatments and genetic testing options available, giving people with a family history of cancer added peace of mind. Schedule an appointment at any of our Connecticut, Maryland, or New Jersey locations to learn more about reducing your personal risk.