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You likely don't want to think about the chances of having another cancer down the road. But research has shown that risk for a second cancer is slightly higher for childhood cancer survivors than is the risk for cancer in people of the same age in the general population. Here's what you need to know to assess your risk and help prevent a second cancer.
Factors that affect risk for a second cancer are your age at cancer treatment, the specific treatment you received, and your genes and family history.
Certain chemotherapy drugs can increase your risk for acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Although it is rare, it tends to occur within 10 years of treatment of your original cancer. These types of chemotherapy drugs increase risk:
Risk for AML is also higher for people who underwent a stem cell transplant.
Radiation for childhood cancer increases risk for secondary solid tumors as you age. The most common tumor sites include the skin, breast, brain or spine, thyroid gland, and bones. Most often, these tumors occur 10 or more years after treatment for childhood cancer. Risk is greater for people who received higher doses of radiation over larger fields.
Family History of Cancer
Some survivors may have inherited changes in their genes that raise risk for a second cancer. Signs that you might have a "cancer gene" include if your family has young people with cancer in every generation, or if you have a cancer that occurs in both sides of paired organs (such as the eyes, breasts, or kidneys). However, fewer than 1 out of 10 people with cancer have these gene problems. Talk with your doctor if you think that cancer may "run in your family." A review of your family's medical history will tell if you need genetic counseling or testing.
Being proactive about your health, knowing your medical history, and developing a relationship with your doctor can boost the odds that any future health problems will be found at earlier stages. Follow these tips:
Certain lifestyle choices, including these, can help you prevent a second cancer.
Don't smoke or chew tobacco and avoid secondhand smoke.
Protect Your Skin
Skin cancers are one of the most common second cancers after childhood cancer, especially among people who were treated with radiation. That's why it's important to protect your skin from the sun's rays. Follow these tips:
Drink Alcohol in Moderation
Heavy drinkers, especially those who use tobacco, have a high risk for cancer of the mouth, throat, and esophagus. Risk for breast cancer may be higher among women who drink alcohol, too. Limit your intake to lower these cancer risks as well as risk for other problems related to alcohol, such as liver disease.
Intake of certain food has been linked with cancer risk. Help lower your odds for a second cancer by following these healthy eating tips:
Keep a Healthy Weight and Get Active
Being overweight or obese is linked with increased risk for a number of cancers, including breast cancer in women after menopause and cancer of the colon and rectum. Avoiding weight gain as an adult is important not only because it might lower cancer risk but also because it can help reduce risk for many other health problems.
People who get moderate to vigorous levels of physical activity have a lower risk for several cancers, including breast and colon cancer. What's more, exercise plays a major role in keeping a healthy weight and helps lower risk for heart disease, diabetes, and other health problems.
For information on how to eat a healthy diet overall and get active, see related Health Link: "Eating Right and Being Active after Childhood Cancer."
Read more about Secondary Cancers