Advance with MUSC Health

How to Lower Your Risk of Cancer: Q&A with Gastrointestinal Cancer Specialist Katherine A. Morgan, M.D.

Advance With MUSC Health
January 22, 2021
Doctor pointing at the word prevention

With February being National Cancer Prevention Month, it’s a good time to familiarize yourself with common cancer risks and steps you can take to lower your risk of getting cancer. Clinical Director of MUSC Health’s Islet Transplant Program, Katherine A. Morgan, M.D., who specializes in gastrointestinal cancer care, offers reassuring facts and advice on monitoring your own risk. 

Question: According to the American Cancer Society, over 1.8 million new cases of cancer were diagnosed in the United States in 2020. What percentage of these new cancer diagnoses in the U.S. are likely due to preventable causes?

Answer: 35-50%.

It is estimated that one third to one half of new cancer cases diagnosed in the U.S. are caused by potentially avoidable cancer risk factors.

Dr. Katherine Morgan 
Dr. Katherine A. Morgan

Question: What are common risk factors for cancer?

Answer: Tobacco use, excessive alcohol intake and obesity.

Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of cancer worldwide, while excessive alcohol intake is implicated in 5% of cancer diagnoses in the U.S. Obesity (body mass index greater than 30 kg/m2) increases the risk of developing almost every type of cancer.

Question: What can I do to lower my risk for cancer?

Answer: Make good lifestyle choices.

Do not use tobacco. All forms of tobacco products have many chemicals that damage DNA and cause cancer. No forms are safe, including cigarettes, e-cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco/snuff and even secondhand smoke.

Avoid excessive alcohol consumption. Maintain a healthy weight. Eat a plant-based diet and decrease intake of higher calorie foods. Exercise regularly.

Question: What if a close relative develops cancer or cancer seems to run in my family? Does this increase my risk for cancer?

Answer: Maybe.

Five to 10% of all cancers are inherited. It is important to be as familiar as you can with your family history to help guide decision-making with your physician about appropriate cancer screening and whether to consider genetic counseling and genetic testing.

Question: What cancer screening tests do you recommend?

Answer: Cancer screening recommendations are based on risk of cancer development, and so may vary from individual to individual. Recommendations are based on demographics, family history, and medical comorbidities. Cancer screening should be based on discussions with your physician, who is most familiar with your individual risk factors.

Need to consult an MUSC Health care team member about your risk of gastrointestinal cancer? Find a member of the MUSC Health Digestive Disease Center and learn more about the Gastrointestinal Cancers Program at Hollings Cancer Center.