Health & Nutrition Health and Nutrition - February - Page 25

Pass it along Who has been diagnosed with cancer in your family affects not only you, but also your children. For example, if your mother died of breast or ovarian cancer, which can sometimes result from a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, you might not worry about it yourself since these are woman-specific cancers. But you may have inherited a mutation that is also associated with the development of aggressive prostate cancer, says Dr Rana. And even if you remain cancer- free, you could still pass along that mutated gene to your daughter, which puts her at a higher risk for breast or ovarian cancer. In fact, a 2011 study found that 24% of women with ovarian cancer had an underlying mutation. “That’s why it’s so important to try to put together as detailed a medical history as possible. It’s not just for you, but something you can share with your children and grandchildren,” says Dr Rana. Genetic testing Your family cancer history is only the first step. A genetic test can help clarify whether you have one or more specific genetic mutations. Genetic testing involves seeing a genetic counsellor or other specialist who assesses your family history and explains the risks and outcomes of testing, like anxiety from inconclusive results, or the need for closer cancer surveillance if you have a mutation. A simple blood or saliva test looks for mutations in a number of genes related to cancer. You typically get the results in about four weeks. Years ago, genetic testing was expensive, but it is now more affordable and accessible. ancer c y il m a f Your only the is y r o t is h genetic A . p e t s first clarify lp e h n a c test have u o y r e h t whe e specific r o m r o one tations. u m ic t e gen PREVENTION STRATEGIES If you’re at high risk of cancer, a number of options may help you catch it early or take steps to prevent it. These may include: ■ Conventional (non-genetic) screenings and frequent checkups. ■ Surgical removal of organs that may develop cancer, such as the breasts or ovaries. It’s not foolproof, though, and wouldn’t be appropriate for everyone. ■ Stopping smoking, limiting alcohol consumption, getting regular exercise and eating a healthy diet may help reduce your risk. Think you’re too old to worry about cancer? Think again. Cancer, like some relatives, can always show up unexpected. “You can get diagnosed with cancer late in life, so don’t think you are home free if you reach a certain age cancer-free,” says Dr Rana. “Know your family history and talk to your doctors about your possible risk and strategies for prevention.” HEALTH & NUTRITION February 2018 25