Living in a High-Risk Cancer Family

January 3, 2008 by  
Filed under CANCER

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Because so many of members of my extended family have been diagnosed with cancer, I have always been keenly aware that I may have a stronger genetic predisposition for cancer than other individuals.

Growing up, my parents always stressed the importance of being vigilant when it came to proper screenings and making smart lifestyle choices that could help decrease my risk of major diseases.  One of my best friends, Carey Grayson, understood what I was going through.  In recent years, she’s had a staggering number of family members undergo their own battles with cancer.  Recently, I asked her to comment on her own thoughts about being in a high-risk cancer family.  Below is her reply:

There are so many questions that people have about cancer. The problem is that it never occurs to anyone to ask them until their lives are touched somehow by the disease. I know because I have been there six times now.

I have had two aunts die from cancer in my lifetime — one from breast cancer and the other from brain cancer. Since then, two more of my aunts have been diagnosed with breast cancer. Last year when the third of my aunts was diagnosed was the first time that I had heard of genetic testing to determine predisposition for breast cancer. Why had I not heard of this before?

My aunt had the BRCA testing done and it came back negative for the gene. Unfortunately, this does not mean that I am not still at risk for developing breast cancer because not every woman with breast cancer has a BRCA mutation.

So, will I have the testing done? I am honestly not sure what the answer is to that question. I am afraid of what the outcome may be. It is a frightening thing to consider and I don’t want to make any decisions lightly. Of course, information is always one of the best weapons to have in any situation.

In the meantime, I am enjoying my life and trying to make healthy changes my most basic form of prevention. This is an approach that each of my family members is taking along with early and regular mammograms.

Still, there is much confusion for me and for everyone who has dealt with cancer. I can only hope that someday all of our questions about prevention and causes can be answered.

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One Response to “Living in a High-Risk Cancer Family”
  1. Thank you for sharing the emotions that accompany a strong family history of cancer. My brother and I have experienced this in our own lives – with many of our “healthiest” relatives having developed cancer. After dedicating our lives to uncover anything we can do to lower the risk of cancer, and speaking widely, we have come to look at our family history of cancer as almost a blessing rather than a curse. Why? We know that 80 to 95 percent of cancers have an environmental component, and only roughly ten percent are considered genetic. The people we hear from most that have read our book and listen to us speak, often have fears based on family history. At the same time, they are doing much more than many of their friends without a family history to reduce their risk. Hopefully, someday, all of our questions about prevention and causes will be answered, but for now we do have many ideas on choices that can make a difference. Thanks for spreading the word!

    Lynne Eldridge MD
    Author, “Avoiding Cancer One Day At A Time: Practical Advice for Preventing Cancer”

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