February was cancer prevention month. There are several risk factors for cancer that are usually addressed when talking about ways to prevent cancer from happening. Stop smoking. Drink less alcohol. Eat less red meat and more vegetables. Exercise more. These are risk factors that we can control through changing our actions and behaviors. One risk factor, your genes, cannot be changed through your actions. Even though you can’t change your genes, this doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do about increased cancer risks.
Many different genes have been identified that cause increased lifetime risks for several types of cancer. These genes don’t just cause increased risks for breast and ovarian cancer. Some genes may cause increased risks for colon, endometrial (lining of the uterus), thyroid, urothelial and other cancers. Knowing that you have an increased risk for cancer can be stressful and scary, but it can also be empowering. If you are identified as having a genetic change that causes increased cancer risks you can complete cancer screenings and risk reducing procedures to greatly reduce your risk of developing advanced cancer. For example, if you have an increased risk for colon cancer you can complete a colonoscopy every year to detect and remove colon polyps that may lead to cancer. You can’t change the genetic mistake that causes the increased risk for cancer, but you can change the way you manage the risk. By completing genetic counseling and testing you can identify your risks and take actions to reduce these risks.
No one wants to have an increased risk for cancer due to genetic changes in themselves or their family. However, if a genetic mistake is present there is nothing you can do to “cure” this or make it go away. What you can do is use the knowledge of this genetic change to take proactive steps to protect the health of yourself and your family. In talking about prevention, one of the best ways to prevent cancer is to talk to your doctor or genetic counselor about your risk to have a hereditary cancer condition, and learn if genetic testing can help to prevent cancer in you and your family.
For more information on genetic counseling and testing, please contact Grand Valley Oncology at 970-254-3180 or visit www.grandvalleyoncology.com.
Katie Lemas, MS, CGC