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Learn More: What are Risk Factors?
While physicians and researchers are unable to identify why some people develop cancer and others do not, certain characteristics or risk factors have been identified. These risk factors, when present, could increase an individual's chance of developing cancer. An important fact to remember about risk factors is that having certain risk factors does not mean that cancer will definitely develop.
Biological Risk Factors
An individual's physical characteristics including age, gender and race can also affect their risk. When these types of characteristics affect risk, they are called biological risk factors. How these affect risk for certain diseases, including cancer, varies by disease. For example, certain cancers only affect men or women. Therefore, just being male or female can affect an individual's risk. Another example is age. Certain cancers develop more frequently in older populations. As a result, when a person reaches a certain age their risk for cancers increases. Other biological features that can affect cancer risk include race and physical characteristics such as skin complexion.
Genetic Risk Factors
Some individuals inherit certain genes from their mother and / or father that can increase their risk for certain diseases, including cancer. These are called genetic risk factors. Characteristics in a family history that can indicate certain genetic risk factors include:
- relatives diagnosed with cancer at younger than usual ages
- multiple generations of relatives diagnosed with similar cancers on the same side of the family
- individuals with multiple types of cancer
Having this information assessed by a trained and qualified health professional is important since some families have these characteristics as a result of chance rather than heredity.