How a Father’s Health History Impacts His Daughter’s Cancer Risk

July 7, 2016

You’re a father of daughters, and you would do anything to ensure their safety. Seat belts are buckled, doors are locked, and temperatures are taken. You wouldn’t hesitate to stand in harm’s way to protect them, but a conversation about your health history may be the ultimate labor of love, especially when it comes to cancer.

The word alone is enough to halt a conversation, but this Men’s Health Week, it needs to be a conversation starter in order to actively protect your family’s health as well as your own.

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The Most Important Conversation You’ll Have This Year 

Men’s Health Week (June 13-19) not only aims to educate men and their families about wellness, but also encourages them to take ownership of their health. The movement is more than just facts and figures. This year, the weeklong health initiative is centered around the theme “Health Elements” to promote conversation, reflection, and action as men assess every aspect of their health.

Your health habits directly affect your daughters. For instance, women whose fathers smoked tobacco while they were in the womb enter menopause approximately 13 months sooner than daughters of non-smokers. And women with obese fathers are more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes. Fathers even affect their daughters’ chances of developing women-specific diseases such as ovarian cancer.

Over the past 20 years, the risk of breast and ovarian cancers has grown tremendously among women with inherited mutations of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. While it’s often assumed that mothers, aunts, and grandmothers are the only family members who can pass down genetic risk for women cancers, this is untrue.

For example, if a father has an aunt, mother, or sister who had or has breast or ovarian cancer before the onset of menopause, there’s a high likelihood that the father is carrying a BRCA mutation that he could pass on to his daughter.

As you assess and converse with your family about possible cancer risks, it’s important to know which cancers are a threat.

  • Ovarian cancer: As shocking as it sounds, men with a family history of ovarian cancer run the risk of passing the gene on to their daughters. While only 1.3 percent of the female population will have ovarian cancer, 15 percent of those cases will be tied to genetics. Families with histories of colon and breast cancers have also been linked to the threat of ovarian cancer.

  • Colon and endometrial cancers: Both types are hereditary and linked to Lynch syndrome, a common BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation that heightens the risk of endometrial, colon, and ovarian cancers.

Approaching Risk in a Productive Way

The risk of cancer is not easily detectable, nor does it make for light dinner conversation. But the benefits of researching a possible family history threat will outweigh the pain that comes with an unexpected diagnosis.

If someone in your family has or had cancer, it’s best to test him or her for a BRCA mutation. Doing so will tell you whether there are hereditary risks in the family tree, and if results are positive, you and your entire family should get tested as well. However, it’s also important to look for other warning signs besides the BRCA mutation, including:

  • Cancers that occur 10-20 years earlier than normal.

  • Several diagnoses within your family.

  • Cancers in opposite-gender family members (e.g., breast cancer in men).

  • Cancer combinations such as ovarian and breast cancer.

Talking about cancer can be scary and uncomfortable, but it’s a crucial conversation to have. This Men’s Health Week, take the health elements of conversation, reflection, and action into account when making your health decisions. Your family will thank you.