So there are a few major factors that play a role in dictating whether or not you might develop cancer. Surprisingly, a family history of cancer is not a major predictor.
According to the American Cancer Society, they state in their book, Informed Decisions, “The very fact that only some of the people exposed to most cancer-causing agents develop the disease prove it is multi-step in nature. If there were a single, or simple, cause, then everyone, or nearly everyone, would fall ill.”
Despite the fact we cannot pinpoint a single reason, we do know that carcinogens (cancer-causing agents) and cancer-promoting actions can culminate the eventual development and metastasis (or spreading) of cancer cells. Some factors of cancer are controllable, while others are not. That being said, we can group these factors together into some primary categories:
· Genetics/ family history (5-10%)
· Obesity and poor food habits (30-35%)
· Lifestyle factors (lack of exercise, smoking habits, alcohol consumption, etc.) (30%)
· Environmental factors (exposure to toxins, viruses, and pollution) (25%)
It might shock you to see that first category is such a low percentage. Let’s break down what exactly is going on here. At the center of every cell is a nucleus, and inside that nucleus resides our DNA. Our DNA is passed down from our parents, and determine our physical appearance, color of our hair, so on and so forth.
We also know that when DNA is damaged, it can potentially lead to the development of cancer. Cancers influenced by genetic damage can occur when specific mutations to genes are passed on from generation to generation. However, even if a mutation is transferred, it does not necessarily mean cancer is an inevitable in the future.
The chances of developing cancer are higher in some cases, true. However, in most cases, our genes only predispose us to potentially getting cancer. They do not 100% predict cancer down the road. We are not destined to the same fate of our parents, or their parents before them. If that were true, each of us would not be a unique individual.
Your genes play a big part in your health, but an even bigger player are the things in our environment that communicate with our genes and cells. For example, what you eat plays a role in turning genes on and off like a switch. This is known as epigenetics, and research is showing that the signals we give our body can be the difference between being healthy and not feeling well.
In fact, genetic cancers make up only about 5% of all cancers, with higher rates found in breast and ovarian cancer (10%). What this means, then, is 90-95% of all cancers have nothing to do with inheriting mutated genes. There have been a multitude of studies that have shown in sets of twins, only one ends up developing cancer, even though they share the same set of DNA.
Your genes can predispose you to getting cancer, but they cannot predict it. If you follow the strategies outlined in this book, you can reduce those chances and “stack the deck” in your favor.
In other words, you can limit the chances of a cancer gene (or genes) being activated during your lifetime. Remember, it is important to understand that it does not mean you will definitively avoid cancer for your entire life, but it can reduce the chances of developing cancer down the road.
It is also important to mention here there is a difference here between “genetics” and “family history.” When we talk about genetics, we are referring specifically to cancers that are caused by inherited genetic mutations. Family history is quite different. I’m sure you have heard the phrase “cancer runs in the family.” If someone has family history of cancer, it does not necessarily mean he or she has inherited a genetic mutation, it more likely means they have “inherited” some cancer-promoting habits.
Let’s take a look at smoking, for example. Chances are if someone’s parents smoke, he or she is more likely to smoke at some point down the road. Therefore, it is incredibly important to consider cancer-promoting activities that are passed on through the generations, compared to genetic mutations. Either way, if someone has a family history of cancer, it is important to be more vigilant and reduce cancer-promoting lifestyle activities as much as possible.
Hope this helps!