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Knowledge Is Key in Your Fight Against Cancer

By Dr Kerchhoff, 7 April 2021

World Cancer Day is recognised globally on 4 February to raise awareness of cancer and encourage its prevention, detection, and treatment.

Dr Kerchhoff, a medical adviser at Sanlam, says the value of knowing you have a family history of cancer and preparing yourself and your family for the possibility should not be underestimated – either from a healthcare perspective or from a financial point of view, given the heavy financial burden which cancer can present.

Dr Kerchhoff notes that a cancer diagnosis can have devastating consequences and that people are, all too often, caught unaware. Knowing your family’s health history can be extremely beneficial, as family members share genes, lifestyle habits, and environments which may affect an individual’s risk of developing cancer.

With the number of new cancer cases set to rise by 70% over the next 20 decades, accurate reporting of family history could be key to risk reduction and ensuring that you have the necessary cover in place. While most gene changes are acquired during an individual’s lifetime due to lifestyle habits, infections and environmental or chemical exposure, some gene changes are passed on from parents to their children.

Reasons Why Cancer Runs in Some Families

Dr Kerchhoff explains that cancer can run in families for two reasons.

  1. When families share similar lifestyle habits or exposures 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 – cancer due to genetic changes acquired after birth.
  2. 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.

Find Out About Your Family’s Health History

There are two ways to find out about your family’s health history and determine your cancer risk, explains Dr Kerchhoff. The first would be to ask all your first-degree relatives (parents, children, and full siblings) as well as your second-degree relatives (grandparents, aunts/uncles, nieces/nephews, grandchildren, and half-siblings) some questions.

For each family member, collect as much of the following information as possible:

  • Have they ever had cancer?
  • What type of cancer(s)?
  • Their age at diagnosis.
  • Lineage, in other words, are they on the mother’s side (maternal) or on the 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, at what age and what caused their death?

The second way to find out more about your family history is through genetic testing. This can help predict an individual’s risk of developing a genetically influenced disease or condition as well as identify carriers. It can also diagnose a disease or condition in a symptomatic individual and determine the likely course of a disease, which can assist with planning treatment and management. If there is 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 if you will benefit from genetic testing.

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

Financial Support Is Available

Dr Kerchhoff notes that Sanlam’s various living benefits can provide financial support to an individual and their family in the event of a cancer diagnosis. These include a Severe Illness Benefit, with the following options – Comprehensive Severe Illness, Cancer Benefit and Cancer Plus Benefit. An Income Protector Benefit, Disability Benefit and Child Injury and Illness Benefit are also offered.

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 of 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,” concludes Dr Kerchhoff.

Sanlam Life Insurance is a licensed financial service provider.
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