Cancer cases are set to rise by 47% in the next 20 years – knowing your family history can lower your burden

Cancer cases are set to rise by 47% in the next 20 years – knowing your family history can lower your burden

Published on 28th January, 2022 at 12:09 pm

The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer revealed that the global cancer burden is expected to sit at 28.4 million cases in 2040, a 47% rise from 2020.

We tend to shy away from often uncomfortable conversations about our family’s medical history, but Dr Friedel Kerchhoff, a medical adviser at Sanlam, says, with these sobering stats in mind, that the value of knowing you have a family history of cancer and preparing yourself and your loved ones for the possibility should not be underestimated.

Given how much of a financial burden cancer can be, Dr Kerchhoff says that people are all too often caught unaware. Knowing your family’s health history can be extremely beneficial, because relatives share genes, lifestyle habits and environments that may affect a person’s risk of developing cancer. Accurately reporting family history could be key to reducing your risk and ensuring that you have the necessary cover in place. While most gene changes happen during someone’s lifetime as a result of lifestyle habits, infections and environmental or chemical exposure, some gene changes are passed on from parents to their children.

How cancer can run in your family

Dr Kerchhoff explains:

Lifestyle habits

This occurs when family members share similar lifestyle habits or exposure that increase their cancer risk.

For example, a family with multiple members who smoke heavily would have an increased risk of developing lung cancer compared to a family of non-smokers, or where very few members smoke. Cancer that can develop in this instance is called a sporadic cancer, ie cancer due to genetic changes acquired after birth.

There are simple lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your risk of developing cancer. Read this to learn what they are.

Gene mutations

This occurs when abnormal genes (mutations) that can lead to cancer are passed down from one generation to the next. This is called inherited or hereditary cancer syndrome.

How to find out your family’s health history

Ask the right questions

Have a conversation with your family about their health history, and find out the following from your first- and second-degree relatives:

  • Whether they’ve had cancer.
    • If so, the type of cancer, and their age at diagnosis.
  • Lineage, ie are they on your mother’s side (maternal) or on your father’s side (paternal)?
  • Ethnicity (people of certain ethnicities, eg those with Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry, are at greater risk for certain cancers [caused by inherited mutations]).
  • Results of any previous cancer-related genetic testing they may have had.
  • If they have passed on, their age and cause of death.

Talking about cancer with someone who has been diagnosed with it can be difficult. This guide can help you decide what you should and shouldn’t say to someone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer, in order to help them feel supported.

Genetic testing

This can help predict your risk of developing a genetically influenced condition, and identify carriers. It can also diagnose a disease or condition in someone who is symptomatic, and determine the likely course of a disease, which can help with planning treatment and management. If you have a strong family history of cancer, this is an option worth considering. Before deciding to go this route, discuss your personal medical and family history with your healthcare provider, like your family doctor, to determine whether you will benefit from genetic testing.

Testing can be done through medical genetic tests, which are prescribed by healthcare providers after appropriate counselling.

How Sanlam can help you financially prepare

No one wants to think of the possibility of a cancer diagnosis and what this would entail. “By knowing your family’s cancer history, you can take the necessary preventative measures to protect yourself and your family. This will help you educate yourself about cancer you may be at risk for, and ensure you have suitable financial strategies in place so that you can fight the disease without the added burden of worrying about the financial implications,” says Dr Kerchhoff.

Sanlam’s various living benefits can provide financial support to you and your family in the event of a cancer diagnosis. This includes a Severe Illness Benefit, with the following options: Comprehensive Severe Illness, Cancer Benefit and Cancer Plus Benefit. Sanlam also offers an income protector benefit, disability benefit and child injury and illness benefit. Speak to a financial planner to review your financial situation and learn about your cover needs for optimum peace of mind. Don’t have a financial planner? Get in touch with one today, here.

If you’re unsure whether or how much you’re covered for the risk of cancer, these questions can help. As a Reality Health or Plus member, you enjoy up to 30% discount on risk products, such as life cover, disability cover and income protection.

Sanlam Life Insurance Limited is a Licensed Financial Services Provider.

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