Some factors that could influence your chance of developing cancer are simply a product of your genetics and life-cycle. Therefore, while there may be some comfort in knowing the science involved, these factors are not controllable or changeable. You should always remember that the presence of a cancer risk factor - or even several risk factors - does not necessarily lead to a cancer diagnosis. Most people whose lives are touched by known risk factors will never develop cancer of any kind.
Personal risk factors include:
- Age: There is sometimes a correlation between rising age and the development of cancer, probably due to a tendency for natural cellular repair mechanisms to become less productive as we grow older. Cancer can take years, even decades, to develop. For these reasons, most people testing positive for cancer are 65 or older. For many elderly men who die of other causes, autopsies sometimes show that they had been living - often for quite some time - with prostate cancer, which ultimately may not even have been a factor in their overall health or happiness.
- Genetics: Genetic testing can now detect the presence of hereditary cancer genes for several kinds of cancer. A positive result does not necessarily mean you will get cancer; it does, however, indicate a need for further testing, and it can lead to a customized plan of preventative care. It can also motivate behavioral changes that can decrease the chance of developing certain cancers.
You may want to consider taking advantage of the benefits of genetic testing if you have a family history characterized by:
- a cancer diagnosis at a very young age
- several relatives developing the same kind of cancer diagnosis
- multiple independent cancer diagnoses for the same person
- the development of an unusual cancer
At Penn, we believe that knowing as much as you can about your particular health profile can only help you to make the best decisions in optimizing your personal health and happiness.