The National Cancer Institute estimated that in 2013 there would be over 1.6 million new cases of cancer in the U.S. and over a half-million cancer-related deaths. Just about everyone knows someone who's had some kind of cancer and when it's in the family, concerns about our own risk run deep.
But predicting cancer is not easy. After all, it is not just one disease but actually a grouping of over 100 different diseases that all share the common characteristic of abnormal cell division and invasion. Fortunately, there are some ways to get an idea of your personal cancer risk. There are even fairly simple changes you can make now to significantly improve your chances of staying cancer-free, says Graham Colditz, associate director for prevention and control at Washington University's Siteman Cancer Center. "We don't have to be fatalistic that we're all going to get cancer," says Colditz. No one can guarantee you'll avoid cancer but informing yourself about the different predictors and taking health precautions is a good place to start.
If your family history indicates that you might be good candidate for genetic testing, proceed with caution. Know what your options will be post-test, says Colditz because results don't always guarantee a change in treatment. Also, be sure to do some research on your testing method. The FDA recently sent a letter to 23andMe about their at-home gene test, which, among other things, said it could tell people their BRCA carrier status. The FDA wrote that it feared this product would result in an elevated number of false positives and negatives. The company has since pulled it.
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