Like brown hair and blue eyes, some cancers can run in your family. The National Cancer Institute says majority of cancers occur by chance. However, inherited gene mutations cause about 10% of cancers. Inheriting a genetic mutation doesn’t automatically mean you will get cancer; it just means your risk increases. Other factors can also increase your risk of cancer.
The OhioHealth High Risk Cancer Clinic evaluates and manages patients who may be at higher-than-average risk of developing certain cancers based on family history, personal history, environmental conditions, lifestyle choices or a combination of these factors. Bushra Siddiqi, MD, medical director of the OhioHealth High Risk Cancer Clinic, says, “The clinic is a unique source for cancer risk evaluation, prevention and management of individuals at high risk for developing certain cancers. We encourage people to take control of their health by informing them about their cancer risk and providing them with a care plan so they can take appropriate action to reduce that risk.”
High risk genetic factors
If there is a pattern of a certain types of cancer on one side of your family, your inherited risk increases. These patterns include having several close family members with the same cancer or having cancer at a young age. If one family member has two or more types of cancer, that is also a red flag.
The American Cancer Society estimates that about 42% of cancer cases can be prevented when you’re aware of potential risk factors and you take action to avoid them. Let’s review some of these risk factors.
High risk environmental factors
Certain factors from the environment increase your risk of cancer. Too much exposure to sunlight is one common example. Other environmental risk factors include air pollution, asbestos and secondhand tobacco smoke.
High risk personal factors
There are several lifestyle choices and habits that increase your risk of cancer. These are:
- Smoking: This habit causes about 20% of all cancers.
- Alcohol: The less alcohol you drink, the lower your risk. The current National Comprehensive Cancer Network guidelines are to avoid all alcohol intake. Patients who choose to drink alcohol should limit their consumption to no more than one drink equivalent in a day and no more than three per week.
- Poor diet: Experts say a healthy diet can reduce your cancer risk by 10 to 20%.
- Weight: Being overweight or obese is a factor in 14 to 20% of cancer deaths.
- Inactivity: 300 minutes of weekly exercise can help you control your weight and cancer risk.
Dr. Siddiqi says, “It’s important to note that cancer is a complex disease. Not one single factor causes it, but a combination of factors can lead to cancer. Inherited risk is one of those factors. When you include other risk factors, there is an increased cumulative effect that puts you at a higher risk for cancer.”
Calculating cancer risk
The first step is to review your family history of cancer. Doctors suggest documenting cancer cases on both sides of the family for three generations. Look for patterns in types of cancer, gender, age and outcomes. Also, look at your medical history for potential cancer clues, such as abnormal breast biopsies or history of chest wall radiation that can increase breast cancer risk.
If you meet the criteria for possible inherited cancer risk, genetic testing is available. These tests show cancer-causing genetic mutations that increases your risk. Testing is usually done with a blood or saliva sample. Once you evaluate your environmental and personal habits risks, you can use that information to gauge your additional risk aside from genetics. Review all of these factors with your healthcare providers to calculate your comprehensive cancer risk.
Reducing your cancer risk
Once you’ve assessed your cancer risk, it is up to you to decide how to use that information. There are both medical options and lifestyle choices you can make to prevent cancer. Medical options include vaccines, medications and surgery. Lifestyle choices include not smoking or drinking alcohol, eating well, exercising and wearing sunscreen. Your risk decreases with every positive step you take.
The OhioHealth High Risk Cancer Clinic can help you prevent cancer
We offer a multidisciplinary clinic with a team of physicians, nurse practitioners and genetic counselors who can provide patients with a risk analysis and a personalized prevention plan based on a thorough review of family, personal medical history and genetic tests if already completed. If necessary, you will be advised on further genetic testing.
Your prevention plan could include nutritional support, acupuncture, massage and social services. The goal is to empower you to take control of your health through healthy medical and lifestyle decisions.
Dr Siddiqi says, “Another unique feature of the clinic is that we offer routine follow ups for all high-risk patients that includes risk re-analysis if family or personal history changes. This provides you the most up to date personalized prevention plan.”
While many hospitals have different high-risk cancer clinics for breast or specific cancers, few provide comprehensive high risk cancer care like OhioHealth does. Also, since the field of genetics is ever evolving, the clinic offers research based on the latest cancer screening, gene mutations and management guidelines.
If you are at a higher risk for cancer, the High Risk Cancer Clinic is an invaluable resource. You can call to schedule your own appointment or have your provider refer you.