• Question: how likely will i get cancer ?

    Asked by hannahsandon to Jo, Loren, Lucy, Sam, Toby on 24 Jun 2014.
    • Photo: Tobias Warnecke

      Tobias Warnecke answered on 24 Jun 2014:

      Hi hannahsandon,

      that’s a tricky one. Some cancers appear spontaneously, when new mutations happen by chance in the genome, so it’s very difficult to predict whether one person will or will not get cancer. Some other cancers are a bit more predictable because they are, at least partly, down to mutations inherited from the parents. Mutations in the BRCA genes in breast cancer are like that. In those cases, other members of the family (the mother, the grandmother, etc) will often have already had breast cancer.

      So, the short answer is: it’s hard to tell. And even if doctors have a lot of information about you – what your genome looks like, your family history, and whether you are exposed to cancer-causing agents (like radiation) – they would still only be able to make a poor prediction in most cases.

      That’s why, especially later in life, regular check-ups are important, to catch cancers early, when they are much more treatable.

    • Photo: Lucy Remnant

      Lucy Remnant answered on 24 Jun 2014:

      About 1 in 3 people will get cancer in their lifetime but thats just a general statistic. As Tobias said, some cancers are spontaneous (like lots of skin cancers) whilst others are inherited (some breast cancers).

      Genetically some people are more likely to get cancer than others but right now, unless there is a strong family history of cancer it is very hard to tell.

    • Photo: Loren Macdonald

      Loren Macdonald answered on 24 Jun 2014:

      Hi Hannah,

      It’s a tricky question and not one that anyone can really answer. Even if we sequenced your genome and gave you a full health test- we could still only hazard a guess. Whilst some cancers are ‘inherited’ in the sense that some people will be more likely to get them than others, a lot are also ‘random’ and therefore it’s impossible to tell whether you will get them. Some people just seem to be more likely than others.

      I think the official statistic, as Lucy said, is about 1 in 3 but this means, realistically, you’re more likely not to get it than to get it. I wouldn’t worry about it too much. Treatments for cancer are improving all the time and people’s chances of recovery are fairly high with a lot of cancers these days. If you want to improve your chances of not getting cancer- you can just make healthier options in life. Exercise, eat healthily, don’t smoke or drink alcohol, keep your skin protected in the sun and be happy!

    • Photo: Jo Nettleship

      Jo Nettleship answered on 24 Jun 2014:

      Hi hannahsandon,

      This is a difficult one and the answer is different for different people. Some people are more likely to get cancer because of their genetics. For example, if your mother, grandmother and aunts all had breast cancer at some point in their lives, then you are much much more likely to get this.
      As Lucy said the statistics are that 1 in 3 people will get cancer. But it doesn’t mean that they will die from it and it doesn’t say how old they will be when they get it.
      I hope you never get cancer