Vim & Vigor - Winter 2019 - GMC - 25

The good news is that, even though
certain diseases are linked to genetics, the vast majority are not, says Mia
Gaudet, PhD, a cancer epidemiologist
and strategic director for gynecologic
and breast cancers at the American
Cancer Society.
"There are a portion of cancers that
can be attributed primarily to-but
not exclusively to-a genetic, familial
mutation," Gaudet says. "And, certainly,
knowing that family history is critical.
But it's also important to know that
the science to this point shows that
family history only accounts for up to
10 percent of cancers, leaving a large
portion that are associated with other
risk factors."
Those risk factors could include anything from pollution to diet to smoking-
outside influences that can cause cancer
or other diseases but have nothing to
do with a family's genetic history.
"The general public seems to have
a notion that family history accounts
for many of the cancers that are diagnosed," Gaudet says. "And that is
simply not true."

ILLUSTRATIONS BY DANTE TERZIGNI

THE GENETIC
CONNECTION

Of course, some cancers are very
connected to family genetics. Consider
the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which
typically suppress cancers of the breast
and ovaries, among others. When these
genes have mutations, they increase
cancer risk.
Scientists have known about these
genes and their connection to breast

HAVING TOUGH TALKS
ABOUT FAMILY HISTORY
Maybe you come from a family of talkers and sharers who aren't shy
about detailing their medical conditions. In that case, learning about past
diagnoses might be as simple as making a quick phone call to a parent
or grandparent.
If you come from a family that isn't quite so forthcoming, getting this
information may take more work. In any case, having the conversation
is important.
"When people don't talk to their families about the family's medical
history, they deprive themselves of a huge amount of opportunity to
avoid and prevent certain medical conditions," says Aubrey Milunsky,
MD, founder and co-director of the nonprofit Center for Human
Genetics and author of the book Your Genetic Destiny: Know Your
Genes, Secure Your Health, Save Your Life. "It is critical that they initiate
those conversations-maybe it's a phone call, or maybe it's an in-person
discussion. But it is important that they have it."
If you were adopted or don't know your biological parents, the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has tips that can help at
cdc.gov/genomics/famhistory; click "For Children."

cancer since 1990, when a team of
researchers published their discovery
of the gene and its mutations in the
journal Science. But BRCA really got
famous in 2013, when actress-activist
Angelina Jolie published an op-ed
column in The New York Times explaining her decision to have a preemptive
double mastectomy after learning she
carried a mutation on BRCA1 that could
have led to breast or ovarian cancer.
Jolie's mother was diagnosed with cancer in her mid-40s-an early enough age
that medical professionals would have
guessed that a genetic mutation caused
her illness. It was enough that Jolie had
her own genes tested, learned she had

the mutation and opted to remove her
breasts, ovaries and fallopian tubes
rather than face the higher risk of cancer.
"It turns out that age of onset
is really important," says Aubrey
Milunsky, MD, founder and co-director
of the nonprofit Center for Human
Genetics and author of the book Your
Genetic Destiny: Know Your Genes, Secure
Your Health, Save Your Life. "If [the cancer] occurs by the age of 50, it has to be
considered as caused by genetics until
proved otherwise. That applies to virtually all cancers-in fact, it applies to
most serious diseases. The earlier any
kind of disorder manifests, the more
likely it is to be inherited."
WINTE R 2019

25


http://www.cdc.gov/genomics/famhistory

Vim & Vigor - Winter 2019 - GMC

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Vim & Vigor - Winter 2019 - GMC

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Vim & Vigor - Winter 2019 - GMC - Cover1
Vim & Vigor - Winter 2019 - GMC - Cover2
Vim & Vigor - Winter 2019 - GMC - Contents
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Vim & Vigor - Winter 2019 - GMC - Cover3
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