Tips to Live By

Cancer Risk Factors You Can Do Something About

Feb. 4, 2020 - Sheshe Giddens

Virtually everyone has been touched in some way by cancer — either themselves or through a family member or friend. Currently, 1 in 3 men and women risk developing cancer in the U.S. during his or her lifetime, but myths and misconceptions still swirl around this much-feared disease.

To help set matters straight, we've answered some common questions about cancer.

Does family history determine my cancer risk?

If a family member is diagnosed with cancer, you may wonder what this means for your own risk. Genetics play a role in your risk for cancer, but having a parent or other family member with cancer doesn't mean you'll definitely develop cancer. Be sure to share family history information at your next checkup so your doctor can help assess your risk.

What can I do to prevent cancer?

Certain lifestyle and environmental factors can raise your risk for cancer, such as:

  • Diet
  • Tobacco and alcohol use
  • Obesity
  • Physical inactivity
  • Exposure to ultraviolet rays, chemicals or infections

You can't control every risk factor, but you can take action against cancer by making healthy choices when it comes to diet, exercise, wearing sunscreen, avoiding tobacco and limiting alcohol.


What cancer screenings should I consider?

Screenings help detect cancer in the earliest stages, when it's most treatable and survival rates are best. That's why it's important to stay on top of cancer screening tests recommended based on your age and other factors — such as colorectal screenings, mammograms, cervical cancer screenings and more. Your doctor may recommend a screening schedule based on your personal and family health history or other risk factors.

What do I need to know about getting a biopsy?

Typically, doctors will run a variety of tests to be sure, including blood tests, imaging scans or a biopsy.

A biopsy involves taking a piece of tissue (or bone marrow, in the case of blood cancers) and analyzing it for malignant cells. If it's cancer, a pathologist can determine its type and how fast it's likely to grow. Imaging scans can tell if a cancer has spread to other parts of the body. All of this information helps determine the best approach to treat each cancer.

What happens after a cancer diagnosis?

You may have a whirlwind of questions and heightened anxiety following a cancer diagnosis for you or a loved one. More treatment options are available now than ever before, including surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, immunotherapy and targeted drugs that zero in on a tumor's gene mutations or other specific characteristics. You want to understand all of the options — and it certainly helps when you're supported by a health care team recognized for expertise and compassion in cancer care.

(Related: The Importance of Cancer Clinical Trials)

Stay up-to-date
Stay connected with Houston Methodist year round. By signing up, you will receive our e-newsletter with articles, videos, health tips and more.
Please Enter Email
Please Enter Valid Email