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We tend to shy away from often uncomfortable conversations about our family’s medical history, but Dr Friedel Kerchoff, Medical Adviser at Sanlam, says 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, he notes 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 someone’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 sporadic cancer, which is cancer due to genetic changes acquired after birth.

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 about 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, in other words, are they on your mother’s side (maternal) or on your father’s side (paternal)?
  • Ethnicity (people of certain ethnicities, for example, those with Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry, are at greater risk for certain cancers).
  • Results of any previous cancer-related genetic testing they may have had.
  • If they have passed on, their age and cause of death.

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 history and family history with your healthcare provider, like your family doctor, to determine whether you will benefit from genetic testing.

“Genetic testing 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,” says Dr Friedel Kerchoff, Medical Adviser at Sanlam.

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

We 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 potential 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 adviser to review your financial situation and find out your cover needs for optimum peace of mind. Don’t have a financial adviser? Get in touch with one today.

 

 

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