Genetic cancer risks may be increased by metabolism, study suggests

Image of a cancer research lab where vaccines are being developed to treat lung cancer. (BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

A new study reveals that cancer risk may not only be linked to your family’s medical history, but also to your metabolism.

Although the hereditary part of cancer is part of the equation, a study published by the University of Alberta in April examines the role of metabolism and environmental factors in cancer risk.

Dr. David Wishart, a professor at the school, says deepening our understanding of how metabolism works and making better lifestyle choices can help reduce cancer risk.

“On the prevention side, altering our metabolism through lifestyle adjustments will make a huge difference in cancer incidence.”

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Wishart believes that understanding what he describes as a person’s “metabolic type of cancer” can help a doctor decide the best option for treating a specific cancer.

According to the study, the causes of cancer fall into three categories: a genetic disease, an environmental disease and a metabolic disease.

Wishart says cancer as a genetic disease is the genetic traits you inherit at birth, while cancer as an environmental disease involves what your body is exposed to throughout your life. And cancer as a metabolic disease is related to metabolism.

“It really doesn’t make a difference where the cancer is – it’s something you need to get rid of. It’s how it grows or develops that matters,” Wishart said. “It becomes a question of, ‘What is the fuel that powers this engine?'”

Wishart explains that cancer related to genetic traits only accounts for 5-10% of all cancers, while 90-95% of cancers are based on what an individual is exposed to over their lifetime.

“Cancer is genetic, but often the mutation itself is not enough,” Wishart said in a statement. “As cancer grows and spreads through the body, it creates its own environment and introduces certain metabolites. It becomes a self-sustaining disease. And that’s where cancer as a metabolic disorder becomes really important.”

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What if I have a genetic mutation?

According to US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a genetic mutation does not mean you will get cancer, and preventive measures can reduce your risk of cancer.

These involve getting tested early and making better lifestyle choices, including quitting smoking, not drinking alcohol, exercising routinely and maintaining a healthy weight.

Know your family medical history

It is important to collect your family’s medical history and share this information with your doctor to prevent your risk of cancer.

The CDC say people with Lynch Syndrome, a common cause of hereditary cancer, are susceptible to colorectal cancer and other cancers including cancer of the uterus, stomach, liver and brain.

According to the CDC, several inherited diseases can increase your risk of cancer, the most common being breast and ovarian cancer.

Over 250,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with breast cancer and over 20,000 are diagnosed with ovarian cancer. While most of these cancers occur by chance, some are hereditary.

The CDC said in 2018, more than 1.7 million people have been diagnosed with cancer. However, without more cancer prevention efforts, that number is expected to rise to more than 2.2 million by 2050, with the largest percentage increase in adults aged 75 or older.

FOX 5 New York contributed to this story. This story was reported from Washington, DC