ZocdocAnswersWhat makes a person prone to certain forms of cancer?

Question

What makes a person prone to certain forms of cancer?

I know you can get cancer just about anywhere. Is there anything in a person's lifestyle that makes them prone to cancer in a certain part of the body? I worry about colon cancer because it runs in my family but I do not know where to start.

Answer

This is a very good question. Cancer is a very complex problem as is evidenced by the fact that there is no easy cure, and it is relatively diverse affecting many different organs in the body. To understand something about cancer, you must first understand some basics about the normal cell cycle. There are factors that both promote cell division, and prohibit cell division. In simple terms you can think of them as being either a green light to allow/promote cell division, or a red light to prohibit or stop cell division. These positive and negative factors usually work together as a set of checks and balances to make sure that the cell cycle is not out of control. When we discuss the heritability, or genetic predisposition for developing a cancer, we are referring to a defect in this set of checks and balances that gets passed on from generation to generation. The system is not usually flawed enough to cause a cancer (which is really just the uncontrolled cell growth of cells) outright, but rather puts the individual at risk that if a few mutations occur, or if enough damage occurs to their DNA, they might not have the repair mechanisms to fix it. If you are worried about colon cancer specifically, I would recommend making an appointment with a gastroenterologist to talk to about routine colon cancer screening, and your risk due to your family history. I wish you all the best.

This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or (in the United States) 911 immediately. Always seek the advice of your doctor before starting or changing treatment. Medical professionals who provide responses to health-related questions are intended third party beneficiaries with certain rights under Zocdoc’s Terms of Service.