Health & Fitness

Cancer in your gene pool? Here’s your cancer prevention guide

Worried about inheriting cancer from your gene pool? Here is your cancer prevention guide.

In India, one in nine individuals are likely to develop cancer in their lifetime. The more you converse with others, the more you realise the spread of the Big C is increasingly becoming rampant. What are the ways in which you can safeguard yourself if cancer is present in your primary gene pool?

Are you at high risk?

“It is crucial to recognise that while some cancers have a strong genetic component, not all are directly hereditary. Generally, breast, ovarian, colorectal, and prostate cancers have notable genetic links. Individuals with a family history of these cancers should undergo genetic counselling and testing to assess their own risk,” says Dr Atul K Gupta, medical oncologist, Regency Hospital. Women with a family history of breast or ovarian cancer may benefit from regular mammograms and pelvic exams. For men with a family history of prostate or colorectal cancer, prostate-specific antigen (PSA) tests and colonoscopies are advisable.

“Not all cancers are predominantly genetic. For example, lung cancer is largely attributed to environmental factors such as smoking and air pollution rather than genetics,” explains Dr Atul Narayankar, consultant medical oncologist, Wockhardt Hospitals, Mira Road. “Both men and women need to stay proactive in monitoring their cancer risks.” A prudent outlook given the high stress, pollution laced environment we live in, and the combination of often toxic habits we cultivate.

Maintaining a regular periodic check on your health helps. “For men, an annual prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test can help detect signs of prostate cancer early on, particularly for those over 50 or with a family history of the disease,” says Dr Narayankar. “Regular skin checks should also be part of the routine, as melanoma rates continue to rise among men. For women, annual mammograms are crucial in detecting breast cancer at its earliest stages. Regular PAP smears can identify any abnormal cervical cells, lowering the risk of developing cervical cancer. Genetic testing may be recommended for women with a family history of ovarian or breast cancer to assess their susceptibility and enable preventative measures. Ensuring these annual checks become part of your health routine can significantly contribute to early detection and proactive management of potential cancer risks.”

Cancers which can be caused due to genetic mutations, can be carried forward in next generations through the progress of these mutations in the gene pool. Dr Amol Pawar, radiation oncologist, Onco-Life Cancer Centre Group of Hospitals, recommends a stringent check-through tests. “To keep a check on occurrence of breast cancer, Regular Manual Palpation and examination of breasts is recommended together with annual screening mammography after 40 years of age. Annual ultrasound of breasts for age less than 26 but more than 40 for average risk.”

For colorectal cancer, he recommends a check through colonoscopy or flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5-10 years. “Serum CA 125 level needs to be assessed for ovarian cancer; Serum CA 19-9 and CEA level for pancreatic cancer; Serum CEA for Colorectal Cancer: Essentially these are tumour marker tests to be done after clinical suspicion, if someone is displaying symptoms including altered bowel habits, abdominal distention, blood in stools, jaundice,” he adds.

What are the preventive vaccines?

Though vaccines do not offer foolproof protection from any disease, they better the ability of a relatively healthy body to combat diseases. “For men, the HPV vaccine stands as a powerful tool in reducing the risk of developing several types of cancers, including penile, anal, and oropharyngeal cancer,” says Dr Atul. “By vaccinating against certain strains of human papillomavirus (HPV), men can significantly lower their chances of contracting these potentially life-threatening diseases. In women, the HPV vaccine has already shown promising results in preventing cervical cancer.”

“Vaccinations play a pivotal role in cancer prevention. HPV vaccination is recommended for both men and women to reduce the risk of cervical and other cancers. Hepatitis B vaccination is essential, particularly in regions with higher prevalence, as it lowers liver cancer risks,” maintains Dr Gupta. “Although we have vaccines for cancers which are caused due to some viral infections such as Human Papilloma viral infection in cervical cancer; for genetic cancers, generally vaccinations are not much helpful,” points out Dr Pawar.

How can you help yourself?

Obesity revs up the risk of several cancers. “Therefore, maintain an optimum weight, and exercise regularly for better weight management. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week,” advises Dr Gupta. “Sun protection is vital to guard your skin from harmful UV rays by using sunscreen, wearing protective clothing, and avoiding excessive sun exposure. Skin cancers, including melanoma, can often be prevented through sun-safety measures. For cancers linked to sexually transmitted infections (STIs), practising safe sex is essential. Use protection and consider vaccinations for STIs like HPV to reduce associated cancer risks.”

Shilpi Madan for MoneyControl.com

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