Cancer: Lifestyle, Genes or Just Bad Luck

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A really common question for cancer patients is, “How did I get this disease?”

Many wonder - could it have been prevented? Was it pre-determined in my family history? Or, was it just plain bad luck?

As an oncologist, we can sometimes answer these questions, but in many instances, we just don’t know. What we can tell you is that statistically:

  • One-third of all cancers are tobacco related
  • Ninety percent of lung cancers are tobacco-related
  • Lung cancer is twenty-five percent of all cancers
  • Recent research indicates smoking can leave a “footprint” in your genes even 30 years later

So, the reality is, the simple lifestyle choice of smoking affects a significant portion of cancers in the United States.

Another major contributing lifestyle factor is obesity and lack of exercise. Affecting about 20 percent of all cancer, obesity is commonly associated with breast, prostate and kidney cancers. Reports currently link Louisiana with the highest rates of obesity in the country - 36 percent of the state’s population - and that can correlate to the fact that we traditionally have high cancer rates as well.

Perhaps equally as illuminating, studies are showing that even moderate exercise can help protect against approximately 13 difference cancers.

Even though about half of all cancers can be lifestyle-related, your genes or family history play a significant role as well. If you have a family history of a particular cancer, it is extremely important for you to discuss that with your physician for the appropriate screening guidelines, as you may be at higher risk. The cancers most notably associated with genes are:

And the last question – was my cancer just back luck? Unfortunately, the answer is quite possibly, but we just don’t always know. Some cancers form with no family history and in people who don’t smoke, eat right and exercise. That’s why Ochsner participates in important clinical trials so that we can learn more about how these diseases develop and how we can treat them.

Bottom Line Recommendation

By knowing that at least half of all cancers are lifestyle related between smoking, obesity and lack of exercise, you can significantly reduce your cancer risk by taking care of yourself. Couple this with being aware your family history and following your personal screening guidelines and you can detect your cancer very early, often times making it much more treatable.

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