Are you more likely to develop common forms of cancer?


(BPT) - Do you know your cancer risk factors? Even if you’re young, knowing you’re at an increased risk of developing certain diseases is crucial to your health. Multiple studies show a rising trend in cancer diagnosis among younger people. According to a study published in BMJ Oncology, global incidence of early-onset cancer increased by nearly 80% between 1990 and 2019.

While this news may seem concerning, knowing that you’re at an increased risk of developing certain cancers allows you and your healthcare providers to decide if you should take additional preventive actions, such as earlier and more frequent screenings. Early screening can lead to early detection, improving your odds of surviving a cancer diagnosis.

What is a risk factor?

According to the American Cancer Society, a risk factor raises the chance of getting a disease. If you have risk factors for certain cancers, it doesn’t mean you’ll get cancer. However, knowing these factors can help you make better-informed health decisions.

Your risk assessment toolbox

So, how can you assess your risk of developing certain cancers? There are a few tools that can help. For example, your age, sex, race, and ethnicity can impact your cancer risk. While you can’t change these factors, they can help you and your primary care provider judge how early and often you should be screened.

One way to learn more about your likelihood of developing cancer is through genetic testing. For example, people with particular genetic variants (or differences) in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes have an increased likelihood of developing breast, ovarian, prostate, and pancreatic cancer. Thankfully, these variants are relatively rare, but they have a big impact on cancer risk.

But only about 5-10% of cancers are caused by individual inherited variants with a big impact on developing the disease, like those in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. The rest are influenced by a combination of common genetic variants, lifestyle, and environment.

A trio of new, innovative genetic reports focus on those common genetic variants, and can help you discover if you have an increased likelihood of developing three of the most common forms of cancer — breast, colorectal, and prostate cancer. By analyzing millions of genetic and health survey data points, 23andMe has created polygenic risk score (PRS) reports to help people learn more about their chances of developing these three cancers. These PRS reports aggregate the effects of thousands of common genetic variants; each individual variant may have a small impact, but combined they can influence a person's likelihood of developing cancer.

While PRS reports aren’t new, they are becoming more common in the medical industry.

“There is increasing evidence and support for using PRS in personalized disease prevention,” said Noura Abul-Husn, Ph.D., vice president of Genomic Health at 23andMe. “Certain medical specialties — including oncology — have already begun to adopt this to inform clinical decision-making.”

It’s important to note that 23andMe's PRS reports are not diagnostic tests. Instead, you can use the information from these reports, along with your family health history and lifestyle habits, to start a conversation with your care team about your overall cancer risks, options for cancer screening and prevention, and whether you should pursue early screening.

Lifestyle choices can have a significant impact on your chances of developing cancer. For example, smoking, drinking alcohol, poor diet, lack of physical activity, and other habits can increase your risk of developing certain cancers. Knowing your cancer risk can help you make adjustments to your lifestyle and possibly lower your risk of cancer.

For those who are able, your family health history is another crucial tool. If family members have developed cancer, you may be at a higher risk of developing the same kind (and sometimes different kinds). To assess how your family tree may impact you, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends gathering information from blood relatives where possible, including grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, siblings, nieces, nephews, and children.

To learn more about 23andMe’s cancer PRS reports, visit