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If you're worried about a genetic risk of cancer, you should talk to your healthcare team. They might discuss some of these options with you.
Screening means checking for early signs of cancer or looking for cell changes that happen before a cancer develops. There are different screening techniques for different types of cancer. Some types of screening, such as bowel screening|, can pick up precancerous cell changes, meaning the person can be treated before cancer develops. However, most types of cancer screening pick up cancers at an earlier stage when they can be treated more effectively.
Some people with a high cancer risk decide to have risk-reducing surgery. This means removing the tissues which are at risk of getting cancer, for example the breasts| or ovaries. This type of surgery is only offered to people with a very high risk, such as those who have certain types of cancer susceptibility genes|. Surgery greatly reduces, but does not entirely get rid of, the risk of cancer.
No one can tell you whether risk-reducing surgery is the right or wrong thing for you to do. It’s an entirely personal choice and may depend on:
If you’re considering this option, you can take your time over the decision and get help and advice from doctors and counsellors. It’s helpful to discuss the advantages and disadvantages with your doctor, family and other people you trust before making your decision.
If you know that you have an increased risk of getting cancer, you may be offered the opportunity to join research trials|. These look into genetic causes of cancer or ways of preventing it.
For example, different drugs are being used to try to reduce inherited breast and bowel cancer risk. These are known as chemoprevention trials. Whether you take part in a research trial is completely up to you.
Many people who find out they are at an increased risk of cancer look for ways to improve their health and lifestyle|. Some people say this makes them feel they are doing whatever they can to control their risk of cancer.
Content last reviewed: 1 December 2012
Next planned review: 2015
For answers, support or just a chat, call the Macmillan Support Line free (Monday to Friday, 9am-8pm)
If you have any questions about cancer, need support or just want someone to talk to, ask Macmillan.
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© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
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