A lot of cancers can be preventable by making certain lifestyle choices, such as not smoking to avoid lung cancer and wearing sunscreen to avoid skin cancer. However, despite your lifestyle choices, cancer may still strike simply because of your genetic makeup.
For example, having one first-degree relative, such as a mother or sister, with breast cancer doubles a woman’s risk. Having 2 first-degree relatives increases her risk about 5-fold. Also, 1 in 5 people who develop colorectal cancer have other family members who have been affected by this disease. Your risk of getting colorectal cancer is doubled with a history of colorectal cancer in one or more first-degree relatives.
With all this being said, if you can’t prevent cancer, the best way to protect your health is to detect it early.
Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in women. Every woman over 40 is recommended to have a mammogram once a year. If you have an increased risk of breast cancer, you are recommended to have a yearly mammogram and MRI starting at age 30. Women in their 20’s and 30’s should also have a clinical breast exam every 3 years, while women in their 40’s should have one every year. Also, starting at age 20, women should be performing their own monthly self-exams. However, self-exams should never replace mammograms and clinical breast exams.
Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States. Everybody should start having regular screening at age 50. Those who have a family history or other risk factors should talk to their doctor about starting screening at a younger age. From the time the first abnormal cells start to grow into polyps, it usually takes about 10 to 15 years for them to develop into colorectal cancer. Regular screening can, in many cases, prevent colorectal cancer altogether.
It is extremely important to talk to your doctor today regarding your health if you have a history of cancer in your family. For more information, please visit the American Cancer Society. There is a wealth of information on taking steps for early detection of cancer.