Signs You Have a High Risk of Getting a Secondary Cancer

Some of America’s deadliest cancers end thousands of lives every year. While surviving cancer is worth celebrating, it’s also a cause for elevated concern. If you want to know how to prevent getting cancer — especially if you’ve already had it — there are a few things you can do to lower your risk. Unfortunately, there are also some things you can’t control that you also need to be aware of.

Here are the signs you’re likely to develop a secondary cancer — one that originates in one part of the body but develops in another.

1. You’ve been sick with a virus

Vaccine in vial

Viral infections can lead to the development of a secondary cancer. | iStock.com/Mckyartstudio

Developing certain viral infections unfortunately increases your risk of developing a secondary cancer. For example, if you develop a hepatitis B or HIV infection, you’re at an increased risk of developing cancer, especially if you’ve been diagnosed with cancer before.

Next: Women who get this treatment risk developing cancer in various parts of their bodies.

2. You started hormone therapy during or after menopause

Visiting a doctor

Could hormone therapy hinder you? | Nensuria/iStock/Getty Images

Many women choose to undergo hormone therapy to relieve symptoms of menopause. Certain forms of these treatments increase your risk of developing a handful of cancers, like breast, uterine, and ovarian cancers.

Next: Sometimes, the habits of the people you hang out with are terrible for your health.

3. You live with someone who smokes

Man smoking a cigarette

Smoking yourself counts too. | iStock.com/Minerva Studio

Even if you don’t smoke yourself — whether you used to or not — long-term exposure to secondhand smoke increases your cancer risk. Inhaling those chemicals can disrupt the DNA in many different areas of your body, so it’s possible to develop cancer even if you haven’t touched a cigarette in years.

Next: This is one of those terrifying cancer risk factors you can’t do anything to change.

4. You’re getting older

Smiling elderly woman comb hair and looked in the mirror

Age counts too | MilicaStankovic/Getty Images

As you age, your body gets exposed to more diseases, infections, and lifestyle and environmental risk factors. Even if you’ve previously had cancer, approaching your 50s and 60s increases the odds you’ll develop the same or a different cancer anyway.

Next: There’s a reason your doctor asks about your parents’ health.

5. Cancer runs in your family

Mother and daughter drinking juice at cafe

Is this a trait that was passed on to you? | iStock.com/Astarot

Medical history matters, especially when assessing whether or not you’ll develop cancer (again). If one or more family members have had cancer, your chances of having it even once go up. You’re not guaranteed to have it if it’s largely genetic, but you might have to pay more attention to other risk factors that apply to you.

Next: This serious health condition increases your risk of many diseases, including cancer.

6. You live with chronic inflammation

woman with a stomach ache after eating cake

Is inflammation showing up more than you’d like? | JackF/iStock/Getty Images

The type of chronic inflammation you experience might determine the cancer you’re most at risk of developing. People living with inflammatory bowel disease, for example, are at an increased risk of being diagnosed with colon cancer.

Next: This is a miracle, but it has its downsides.

7. You had cancer as a child

Toddler is on the flight at an airplane

Cancer as a child makes you more susceptible to secondary cancers. | iStock.com/Radist 

As time passes, more and more children live through cancer and eventually enter remission. Childhood cancer survivors are at an increased risk of developing secondary cancers, especially if they undergo certain therapies to eliminate cancer cells.

Next: Sometimes, it isn’t the first cancer itself that causes the second, but something else.

8. You’ve previously been treated for cancer

Doctor doing MRI of a patient

That medication and therapy may hinder you later in life. | iStock.com/Photo_Concepts 

Certain cancer therapies, including chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and certain medications, can increase your risk of developing both secondary an unrelated cancers later on. These are risks doctors, patients, and their families have to discuss in detail before any treatments begin.

Next: Now we’ll talk about the factors you actually have some control over.

9. You don’t protect yourself from the sun

Happy family lying on sand beach and look at sea surf

Sunscreen and shade are essential. | iStock.com/Bicho_raro 

Small amounts of sun exposure are good for you. But too much, without the proper protection, can lead to cancer. Applying sunscreen at the appropriate increments isn’t always enough. Wearing the proper clothing and accessories also protects your skin from cancer-causing rays.

Next: This might not be your favorite activity, but it’s important to try making it a habit.

10. You rarely exercise

Older exercing

Just another reason to stay in shape! | Wavebreakmedia/iStock/Getty Images

Exercise decreases your risk of more than one type of cancer — and it’s not as hard to start doing it as it might seem. Young, middle aged, and older adults should try to engage in at least 30 minutes of physical activity just five days per week for the best long-term results.

Next: You sort of have to take your diet seriously, even when you’d rather not.

11. You eat too many cancer ‘causing’ foods

Oreo's Biscuit

Are processed foods always in your kitchen? | ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

Eating certain foods doesn’t “cause” cancer. But diets high in processed foods do increase your chances of developing other health conditions, like chronic inflammation, that could eventually lead to a cancer diagnosis.

Next: It’s not enough to stop eating the “wrong” foods.

12. You don’t eat enough cancer ‘fighting’ foods

Broccoli in pan on wood kitchen table

Your diet is very impactful to your overall health. | phasinphoto/iStock.com/Getty Images

The good news is, you don’t have to stop eating processed foods altogether if you don’t want to. But if you want to decrease your chances of developing a secondary cancer, you should try to eat more green leafy vegetables, healthy fats, whole grains, and fruits.

Next: Your doctor isn’t telling you to do this just for the fun of it.

13. You haven’t tried losing weight

young healthy girl on home scales

Dropping weight may be able to help. | Ensuria/Getty Images

Studies over decades have found a strong link between cancer and weight gain. It’s believed that nearly half of the new cancer diagnoses in the United States are related to obesity, since the condition causes so many dangerous health problems.

Next: It’s important you take this habit seriously.

14. You don’t keep tabs on your alcohol intake

Two wine glasses

With alcohol, moderation is key. | ValentynVolkov/iStock/Getty Images

A glass of wine or two in the evening isn’t the worst thing in the world. But it’s easy to go way past that cutoff, and when you do that a lot, you’re certainly not doing yourself any favors. Alcohol overuse increases your risk of more than one type of cancer, especially if you’ve already been through treatment.

Next: If you can’t change this habit yourself, it’s OK to ask for extra help.

15. You still smoke

Smoking cigrette

You should stop this bad habit right away. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

If secondhand smoke increases your chances of developing secondary cancer, holding a cigarette in your own hand definitely puts you at risk. If you know you need to quit but can’t, ask your doctor for a referral to a program that can help you. You’ll be glad you did.

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