At Positive Bioscience we get a lot of queries from patients: from testing (our specialty) to treatment to genetic counseling. Recently we have an increasing number of patient queries asking a dreaded question: is this my fault? What could I have done differently? Unfortunately, in most cases, the answer is not easy.
There are risk factors a patient cannot change
- Genetics: BRCA mutation carriers are at significantly higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer. 70% of breast cancer patients have either BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation.
- Gender: males and females are more prone to different cancers.
- Age: cancer risk increases with age.
There are risk factors a patient can change
- Smoking: it goes without saying but smoking significantly increases the risk of certain cancers, especially lung cancers.
- Tobacco: chewing tobacco also increases cancer risk.
- Paan (betel leaf): increases risk of oral cancers.
- Food: maintaining a healthy diet can help prevent cancers.
- Fitness: regular exercise and general fitness reduces cancer risk.
And then there are anomalies…
There are patients who are very fit, never having smoked, who catch cancer at an early age. Conversely, there are patients who do not maintain a healthy lifestyle, smoke, and never go on to get cancer. Predicting with accuracy (beyond a hereditary screening test) of who will get cancer and who will not is impossible. As medical science improves, hopefully this question will get answered.
Don’t blame the patient
It’s important not to place the blame on the patient. The patient has a lot to deal with already and adding an extra burden of blame will not help.