This is an excerpt from my new book: A Personal Guide to Self-Healing, Cancer & Love. One of the topics I explore is how and why cancer runs in the family.
This question crossed my mind in the 1990's when three relatives on my dad's side were diagnosed: my dad, my grand-uncle, and one of their cousins. Was it bad luck, genetics or something else? The truth is cancer genes do exist, but as I've learned, we need to see two people on the same side of the family with the same type of cancer for it to be genetic. Even in those cases there is plenty that can be done to minimize the genetic risk. I'm sharing the following insights to dispel the sense of gloom that can surround a family's medical history. I find it useful to look at this from three points of view:
Genetics > Epigenetics > Memetics
The first is fairly straightforward. One of the first things a doctor will ask for is your family's medical history. For example, a history of breast cancer in the family tree is flagged as a potential risk. Risk factors identify groups who may benefit from regular screening and early detection. They do not have a causal link to disease as indicated by this quote on Cancer.org:
"Having a risk factor, or even several, does not mean that you will get the disease. Most women who have one or more breast cancer risk factors never develop the disease, while many women with breast cancer have no apparent risk factors."
My first reaction is that we have yet to discover all of the causes for cancer, though this is another matter. I'd rather focus on how we can minimize the risk. One way is to eliminate lifestyle factors such as smoking and drinking. What about genetics? Many people assume that genetics is set in stone, though there is research to the contrary. Diabetes and obesity genes are less likely to activate if a person has a healthy lifestyle. This means that we may be able to reduce the risk of "inheriting" these conditions if we work out, eat a balanced diet and drink adequate amounts of water. Is it possible that cancer genes react the same way? I posed this question to a geneticist friend of mine; her initial response is YES. I'm trying to track down research to support this and I'll reference it in the book. If this is true, the implications would be enormous. It would encourage people to live healthy lives and stay optimistic about the future.