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Published on June 05, 2017

woman making smoothie after exercise

Control what you can to Avoid Cancer Tipping Point

Earlier this year, another group of scientists took a look at an idea that cancer arises, most often, due to genetic mutations. “Bad luck” some call it. But that approach to caring for ourselves can be misleading.

Kayla York, MS, LCGC, Avera Cancer Institute genetic counselor said that while these sorts of studies – another one addressed the same topic of cancer and luck in 2015 – create buzz, they also shape public perception.

“There are some cancers that can be attributed to what we’d call bad luck, due to a mutation during cell division,” she said. “We all know people who eat right, exercise and still get cancer. Regardless of these studies, the evidence shows that smoking, alcohol consumption and obesity can increase your risk of cancer. These studies should not prevent us from doing what we can to avoid the risks.”

Insights on Risk

York, along with other cancer experts from Avera Cancer Institute, recently shared insights on the key role genetics plays in this disease. Cancer can rise from risk-increasing outside forces, such as smoking or poor diet, and it can rise from our inherited genes. But discerning between the two is important.

“In the cancer world, everything is genetic, but not everything is hereditary. All cancer is caused by genetic changes after birth – changes that are damaging and not allowing the cell to work correctly,” York said. She explained that these genetic changes that happen after birth cannot be passed to children. “‘Hereditary risk’ means that there is an inherited gene change that increases the risk for cancer. It’s something that was present from birth. It came from a parent and can be passed to a child.”

York explained that having an inherited gene doesn’t cause cancer. It just increases the risk of cancer happening in the person’s lifetime.

While genes play a role, York suggested we find the risk factors that we can control, and then do our part.

“When it comes to environmental factors causing cancer – usually it’s a lot of them adding up over time, especially with the aging process,” she said. “Although many cancer-causing (gene) changes have little to no hereditary influence, and may even be random, it’s important to note that you do have some control over the environmental factors that play a role.”

Reason Behind Changes

That’s why doctors encourage us to quit smoking and enjoy a healthy lifestyle with exercise and good food – to bolster our body’s efforts. York said she sees patients from two groups – those who ask “why did it happen to me?” as well as people who think “There’s nothing you can do.”

“There is a tipping point and if we do not aid ourselves and take control of the things we can, that tipping point where a mutation can occur and lead to cancer will come sooner,” York said. “The question of ‘Why?’ is always the hardest part of a cancer diagnosis. We try to work with people so they can put the risks that come from heredity, environmental factors and behaviors and this so-called bad luck into perspective and get some concept of risks.”

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