Beating Your Genes

Is there a history of cancer in your family? How about heart disease? Does someone in the family battle obesity or diabetes? Most of us relate to having at least one relative that has or is contending with one of these potentially deadly medical conditions. Truth is, we each receive some hand-me-down genes and there’s really no getting around it. The key, however, is to be vigilant about trying to beat your genetic code into submission.

Prevention includes knowing what your hereditary components are. “Talk with your first degree relatives about heart disease, cancer, diabetes and all the other health issues,” advises Nurse  Practioner Melissa L. Fuller at Fuller Family Medicine. She says keeping up with screenings and making the conscious decision to avoid the obvious risk factors like smoking and overeating are key. Finding out this family history paints a fairly clear picture of what possibly could pop up in your own life, however, prevention plays a key role in your health.

For instance, should colon cancer have surfaced in your family lineage then you may be predisposed for this disease. You need to start screening for it.

“Age 50 is when everyone should be screened for colon cancer,” says Melissa. “If testing comes back normal then you’ll screen every 10 years. However, if it’s in your family, you want to do screening 10 years prior to when that closest relative was diagnosed and then check it every other year.”

The initial screening offers a baseline from which to go by. “You want to catch colon cancer early. This is the same for breast cancer,” she adds.

Preventive screening pays off big with the many heart diseases, as well. An unhealthy diet without enough exercise on top of those family genes tends to push up the blood pressure and the cholesterol levels.

Get your blood pressure taken routinely and count on having your cholesterol levels checked once you hit age 45. Men need to be checked beginning at age 35. If heart problems plague your family, start having these life-saving tests while in your 20s.


If you have a history of any of these cancers in your family, be sure you see your medical provider for the appropriate screening. Screening increases your chances of detecting certain cancers early. This is when they are most likely to be curable, according to the American Cancer Society.

Breast cancer – yearly mammograms starting at age 40. Clinical breast exam (CBE) about every 3 years for women in their 20s and 30s and every year for women 40 and over.  Breast self-exam (BSE) is an option for women starting in their 20s.

Colorectal cancer and polyps  – Both women and men should have a colonoscopy beginning at age 50 with one thereafter every ten years.

Cervical Cancer – screening (testing) should begin at age 21. Women between ages 21 and 29 should have a Pap test every 3 years and women 30 to 65, every 5 years. Women over age 65 who have had regular cervical cancer testing with normal results should not be tested for cervical cancer.

Endometrial (uterine) cancer  – At menopause, all women should be told about the risks and symptoms of endometrial cancer. Any unexpected bleeding or spotting should be reported to your doctor.

Osteoporosis – testing routinely starts at age 65 for women or at age 60 if you’re at risk (in the family gene pool).

Obesity – screening is recommended for all adults. Obesity is measured by Body Mass Index (BMI). A BMI over 25 suggests you are overweight. A BMI over 30 suggests you are obese.

Heart Disease, also known as cardiovascular disease, is a disorder of the heart or blood vessels. It is the leading cause of death and a major cause of disability in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The most common type is coronary artery disease (CAD), which leads to a heart attack. For some people the risk of this disease may be reduced by lifestyle changes (stop smoking, regular exercise and a healthy diet) and medication. This disease accounts for more than half of all deaths in women. It includes disorders like aneurysms, arrhythmia, congenital heart disease, heart failure, pulmonary hypertension, stroke and more. Some of the risk factors include family history, smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

High Blood Pressure (hypertension) & High Cholesterol – routine blood pressure checks for women 45 and older and for men 35 and older. Having close biological relatives with heart disease can increase your risk. Routine screenings for lipid disorder including the measurement of your total cholesterol (TC) and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C) are needed. If heart disease runs in your family, screening should start between ages 20 and 45 for women and 20 to 35 for men.

For appropriate screenings and for further information on these ailments and others, be sure to see your medical provider.

FOR MORE ON BEATING YOUR GENES, be sure to check out the full article HERE in the October/November 2013 Issue of YVW.


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