The Benefits of Genetic Counseling

Prevention is the best medicine!

Cancer is the leading cause of death in the United States for people under age 85, and the second leading cause of death, after heart disease, for people over 85. Even though the causes of many cancers are not fully known, research shows there are steps we can take to lower the risk of developing it. These lifestyle changes, in addition to preventative screenings and testing, can be powerful weapons in the fight against cancer. Here is our Top Five List of things you can do to prevent some types of cancer:

1. Stop smoking!

Quitting smoking drastically lowers your risk of lung and other types of cancer, as well as heart disease, stroke and other chronic lung diseases. Even if you’ve smoked for years, the health benefits of quitting are evident right away.

2. Eat healthy and exercise.

According to the American Cancer Society, one-third of cancer- related deaths in America can be linked to poor diet, lack of exercise, and carrying too much weight. Eating a low-fat diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables, coupled with 30 minutes of exercise several times a week, can go a long way in preventing cancer.

3. Limit your exposure to ultraviolet rays.

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer and most cases can be linked to too much exposure to ultraviolet rays. Wear sunscreen outside and avoid tanning beds.

4. Early detection can be a lifesaver.

Screening increases the chances of detecting cancer at an early stage, when it is more easily treated and even cured. Thanks to medical advances in cancer screening, there are many types of cancer that be detected early. Following is information on specific screenings we recommend:

  • Breast Cancer: Women should obtain yearly mammograms beginning at age 40. They should also have a clinical breast exam about every three years in their 20s and 30s, and every year beginning at age 40.

  • Cervical Cancer: Women should have a Pap smear beginning at age 21 or within three years of first having sex. They may also have the HPV test to detect human papillomavirus in their 30s.

  • Ovarian Cancer with Family History: Women whose family history is associated with an increased risk of ovarian cancer should be referred for genetic counseling and evaluation.

  • Colon Cancer: Ninety percent of people diagnosed with colon cancer are over age 50. Therefore, men and women should have a colonoscopy at age 50.

  • Lung Cancer: Those who meet certain criteria related to smoking should have a low-dose CT scan screening.

  • Oral Cancer: Your dentist has the skills and tools to ensure the signs of cancerous and pre-cancerous conditions are identified. See your dentist regularly.

  • Prostate/Urological Cancer: Work with your primary care physician to ensure that you evaluate your risk.

  • Skin Cancer: Regular self-skin exams and a yearly exam by a dermatologist can help detect skin cancer early.

5. Genetic testing.

Only about five to 10 percent of cancers are inherited, or caused by a mutant gene that is passed through family generations. Breast, ovarian, prostate and colon cancers are examples of cancers that can be inherited. Patients should talk to their doctors to learn more about how genetic testing may be able to help them.