My family member has cancer. What does that mean for my health?

Everyone should be aware of their family history of cancer and other conditions. Having a family history doesn’t mean you will definitely get the disease that another family member has developed, but it does mean you could have a slightly higher risk than everyone else. The best way to know your risk is to talk to your relatives about your history. Ask the following questions:

  • What condition did your relative have?
  • How old were they when it was diagnosed?
  • What treatment did they have?

These basic questions can help you and your doctor better understand your own risks.

If you do have a family history of cancer, you are not alone. Most people have at least one relative with cancer because unfortunately, it is a common disease.

While all cancer is genetic, most variations are not inherited (a risk passed from parent to child). The environment we are exposed to can also increase our risk for cancer. This is why we shouldn’t smoke or drink regardless of our family history. And we all can benefit from a healthy diet and exercise.

If you do have a strong family history of a cancer, you can discuss a screening plan with your doctor. For example, if a relative has had breast cancer or colon cancer, you should start having screening at least ten years younger than their age at diagnosis. Not all cancers can be found early with screening, but some can be virtually eliminated if found early and prevented or cured. So be sure to take advantage of the resources you have available to you.

Most teenagers are not screened for cancer because our risk gets higher as we get older, but the more information we know about our history and our family, the more accurate a recommendation we can get from our doctors when the time is right.

Written by the generous Mrs. Kimberly King-Spohn, MS