cancer risk

Knowledge Is Power: Do You Know Your Risk For Cancer?

The word “Cancer” for many people is scary, and with good reason. Over two million Americans will be diagnosed this year alone. The symptoms can be severe, and treatment can sometimes leave patients feeling much worse before they feel better. Sometimes, though, we give the Big C too much power. One of the best ways to take back control over your health narrative and prevent cancer is through lifestyle changes and early detection screenings. This week on Fox 17, Dr. Bitner discusses cancer risk factors, the importance of family history, and how knowledge is power when it comes to our health.

Fact #1: 

There are risk factors you can change, and some you cannot. You can mitigate some cancer risks with lifestyle changes. Healthy lifestyle habits that reduce the risk of cancer include: 

  • Limit alcohol to seven or fewer servings a week
  • Do not smoke
  • Limit red meat intake to two times per week
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Exercise 110 minutes a week  

You cannot change genetic makeup. Our DNA, or genetic information from our parents, contains information that tells our cells how to behave. Certain mutations can leave us vulnerable to cancer. We have more power over our future if we know these mutations, such as BRCA 1 or 2.

Fact #2:

It is critical to know your family history of cancer or what you might be at risk for because of genetic ancestry. People of Ashkenazi Jewish descent have a high risk of carrying the mutation BRCA 1 or 2, which disproportionately increases the risk for breast, ovarian, and other cancers. Lynch Syndrome, caused by other genetic mutations, increases the risk of cancer of the colon, endometrial, and other cancers such as the stomach, pancreas, urinary tract, or brain. At family gatherings this holiday season, ask about your family health history.

Fact #3:

Currently, one out of six women will get cancer in their lifetime. Good medical care includes having the option to know your genetic risk for cancer and using that information to screen for cancer. If you have a family history of cancer, it is essential to know if genetic testing makes sense for that type of cancer. If you have a small number of relatives, are an only child, or were adopted, we highly recommend getting tested to know your risk. Several companies provide testing, and many insurance companies pay for testing. HIPPA laws protect this type of testing, so a healthcare provider must order them. If you are positive, there are guidelines about what to do next.

Patient Story: 

After genetic testing, Jane’s sister discovered that she had the PALS genetic mutation, increasing her risk of breast, ovarian, and pancreatic cancer. Further testing showed that she was in the early stages of breast cancer, and she went on to successfully treat it. Jane had very dense breasts (Class 3) and was concerned that cancer might not be detectable for her. She had a mammogram, ultrasound, and MRI, which were negative. However, because of her family history, overall lifetime risk, and wish to take estrogen during menopause, Jane chose to have a bilateral mastectomy. She also gave up alcohol, lost weight, and was consistent with her exercise. Today, she is living without worry of breast cancer.

Health Tip of the Week: 

This holiday season, find the right time to ask about your family history of cancer. Knowledge is power, and understanding your health history benefits your future. Know that genetic testing is widely available and often covered by insurance. 

Watch the full segment starting at minute 12:45.