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Health Rules to Follow if Your Parents Had Cancer

Read on to eliminate these risks.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Every person whose parent has had cancer wonders if they're somehow at increased risk of developing the disease themselves. Not every cancer has a direct genetic component—in fact, the American Cancer Society says that inherited genetic mutations only play a role in 5 to 10 percent of cancers. But if you do have an increased genetic susceptibility to cancer, it's worth knowing about, so testing can keep you safer. And even if you don't have an inherited cancer risk, many of us inherit unhealthy lifestyle elements from our parents, some of which have been clearly linked to higher cancer risk. Removing those from your life and making healthy substitutes is an easy win. These are the health rules to follow if your parents had cancer. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Don't Skip Your Screenings

woman consulting with female doctor

Experts recommend routine cancer screenings for everyone, including mammograms and cervical cancer screening for women, and colonoscopy for both men and women. The age to begin colon cancer screening was recently lowered from 50 to 45, because colon cancer is increasing in prevalence among younger people. Follow the routine screenings your doctor recommends, and tell them if you have a family history of some cancers. Your doctor may recommend beginning routine screenings earlier.


Request These Tests

Portrait of doctor with face mask and clipboard looking at camera in hospital.

If either of your parents had breast, ovarian, or prostate cancer, you may want to be tested for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations. People with these mutations have a higher risk of developing those types of cancers. If your parents—or multiple people in your family—developed colon cancer before the age of 50, you might want to be tested for Lynch syndrome, a hereditary contributor to colon cancer and higher rates of several other cancers. If you have a positive result, your doctor may recommend additional surveillance testing.


Lose Weight

Woman measuring waist with tape standing in front of mirror.

Studies have also found that excess body fat increases the risk for 13 types of cancer. Compared to people at a healthy weight, men who are severely obese have a 52% higher risk of dying of cancer, and women have a 62% higher risk. The culprit may be inflammation, a known contributor to cancer. Keeping your weight in a healthy range is a good way to reduce your cancer risk regardless of your genetic susceptibility. 

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Get Regular Exercise

woman doing tabletop exercise with weights on yoga mat

Regular exercise slashes the risk of several cancers, including breast, colon, esophageal, bladder, kidney and stomach, the National Cancer Institutes says. A review of research conducted by the American College of Sports Medicine found that risk reduction may be as high as 69%! Frequent physical activity seems to bolster the immune system; experts recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week.

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Get Plenty of Sleep

woman sleeping at night with eye mask

"Insufficient sleep may indirectly heighten cancer risk," says the National Sleep Foundation. "Insufficient sleep has been strongly linked to obesity, which is an established risk factor for many types of cancer. Lack of sleep is related to immune system issues like persistent inflammation, which is believed to raise cancer risk." Experts recommend that adults of every age get seven to nine hours of quality sleep every night.

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Don't Smoke, and Drink Only In Moderation

woman drinking red wine

You know that smoking is a huge cancer risk: After all these years, it's still the #1 preventable cause of death in America. But according to the American Cancer Society, alcohol use is also dangerous. It raises your risk of at least seven types of cancer, including mouth, throat, breast, colorectal and esophageal. If drink, do it only in moderation—no more than two drinks a day for men and one for women. And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor. Read more about Michael
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