Inheriting a Predisposition to Cancer
Some families have a history of cancer. This means that they have a gene, or genes, that predisposes them to developing cancer.
While a predisposition does not guarantee that a person will develop cancer, it does put them at high risk for developing cancer. Generally,
a type of cancer will run in a family, such as colon or breast cancer. Identifying when one has a predisposition can allow one to make
certain lifestyle choices that can minimize one's risk as much as possible.
A genetic test can be conducted to determine if one has an elevated risk of developing certain familial cancers. This can lead to important
choices about screening and changing habits. However, finding out the results of a genetic test can be accompanied with feelings of guilt,
worry, discrimination, and family tension. In cases of genetic testing, genetic counseling can be very helpful.Genetic counseling is defined
as "a communication process which deals with the human problems associated with the occurrence or risk of occurrence of a genetic
disorder in a family. The process involves an attempt by one or more appropriately trained persons to help the individual or family to:
- comprehend the medical facts, including the diagnosis, probable course of the disorder, and the available management;
- appreciate the way that heredity contributes to the disorder and to the risk of recurrence in specific relatives;
- understand the alternatives for dealing with the risk of recurrence;
- choose a course of action which seems to them appropriate in view of their risk, their family goals, and their ethical and religious standards and act in accordance with that decision; and
- make the best possible adjustment to the disorder in an affected family member and/or to the risk of recurrence of that disorder.
Genetics is not the only thing that can predispose one for cancer. Factors such as sex, race, and age can determine how likely someone is
to develop cancer. For example, age; changes in hormone levels throughout life, such as age at first menstruation, number of pregnancies, and age at menopause; obesity; and physical activity
are all factors in determining one's risk for developing breast cancer. For men, age, race, and diet affect the risk of prostate cancer
development. Fatty diets have been tied to an elevated risk of prostate cancer. In general, the chances of cancer increase with age.