Cancer Touches Everyone

23andMe is passionate about fighting cancer. We’re researching specific forms of cancer and treatments (see sidebar) and also learning more generally about cancer through our Cancer Family History survey (men’s version and women’s version). Personal experiences have the potential to fuel important research discoveries and by taking this survey customers can tell us how cancer has touched their lives.

May is National Cancer Research Awareness Month

You can contribute to research on cancer by taking the Cancer Family History survey (men’s version and women’s version) and if eligible, participating in the following studies: – Do you have sarcoma, or know someone who does? Learn how to join our Sarcoma research community today. – Do you have an MPN, or know someone who does? Learn how to join our MPN research initiative today. – If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, check out our innovative online study with Genentech.

Within just 2 months of launching the survey over 20,000 customers (9,700 women and 11,000 men) have completed it! Although we’ll likely need more data to be able to find interesting genetic and non-genetic associations for different types of cancer, what people are already telling us is very interesting:
  • Cancer is relatively common in the 23andMe database

About 20% of women and 16% of men had a diagnosis of some form of cancer (this included relatively common non-melanoma skin cancers). These numbers are higher than the national adult average of 8.5%, which may reflect the fact that 23andMe customers include individuals enrolled in our Sarcoma, MPN and Metastatic breast Cancer research communities. People with a strong family history of cancer might also be more interested in undergoing genetic testing and taking this survey.

  • Approximately 50% have a 1st degree relative with cancer

Just over half of respondents have a mother, father, child or sibling who had been diagnosed with cancer.

  • Many have parents who suffered from breast or prostate cancer

Nearly 10% of respondents (combined male and female) have a mother with breast cancer while just over 1% had a father with prostate cancer.

  • Both my parents died of cancer. My father died of colon cancer in 1995 at age 65 and my mother died of pancreatic cancer in 1998 at age 68. My father’s sister died of breast cancer in 1985. I think she was 61 or 62. After putting it off for years I finally got a colon test this year but only because I contracted food poisoning. I do get Mammograms and Pap smears more often but I admit that I hate these tests. I’m 53 and my brother is 51.

    Most of my paternal family dies from strokes and my mother’s family dies from diabetes. I have high blood pressure. My brother has high blood pressure, cholesterol, and is pre-diabetic. What amazing in all this is my parents, aunts, brother and me are all thin people. In fact we were and I still am the butt of peoples jokes because I’m so slim so fat has nothing to do with disease. In my brother and I case it is in our DNA.

  • AJ

    DeBorah – Being thin doesn’t imply one is in good health. Being thin just means that you do not consume more calories than your body can burn off in a day.

    Health is a combination of vigorous daily exercise, eating a variety of unprocessed foods as close to nature as possible, sleeping until your body decides it’s time to wake up, avoiding stress whenever possible, and then lastly not consuming more calories than your body can burn off. This is how I choose to live my life. I do not need to take any medications, rarely (if ever) get sick, and I never see any doctors.

  • Cheryl Ann Wilmoth

    I am very excited to see that 23andMe and your team are involved in trying to learn more about cancer. But I am somewhat taken back about the huge emphasis on Breast Cancer. Please do not take my thoughts wrong; but it is so very upsetting to see family members and friends dying from such cancers as Colo-rectal Cancer, Lung Cancer and Pancreatic Cancer.
    We all have a colon, rectum, pancreas, lungs, AND breasts, etc; however, there is such a huge emphasis on breast cancer from people, to companies, to hospitals, etc. Last year my sister was diagnosed with stage IV rectal cancer, which had metastasis to the lungs bilaterally. Then this year we lost a friend to Colo-Rectal cancer. There needs to be more of an emphasis on ALL cancers, not just one…
    Again, as a registered nurse by profession (retired), it concerns me a great deal that we aren’t trying to learn more about cancers that affect everyone. I have had several people in our families who have had various cancers: lung, uterine, colon & rectal, etc. and most of them lost their lives while fighting these cancers.
    We are blessed that we have not experienced a direct member of our family related to breast cancer, however, I do have some friends who have had breast cancer. And I am appreciative of all that has been learned about breast cancer. But there are so many types of cancer, and I would love to see the community involved in finding answers for all of them, as well as educating the community on signs, symptoms, and good health practices in relation to all cancers. And especially the importance of tests such as a COLONOSCOPY.
    If you have a family member who has had colo-rectal cancer please get a baseline colonoscopy early (about 40 years of age). Of course, your physician will be the one who can weigh in on when you specifically need to be tested. But please try to get a colonoscopy by age 50 (baseline) and then as often as your physician recommends.
    No one wants any disease, but ignoring symptoms and abnormal signs in your body only serves to allow the disease to spread and grow and may lead to a decline in your health and may even take your life.
    Thank you for all you do!

    • Arleeda

      Cheryl, I am a retired scientist and used to be involved in cancer research. The reason for the emphasis on breast cancer can be traced back to the early 90s when a group of breast cancer survivors marched on Washington and lobbied for additional funds for breast cancer research, and they got it. This year because of the sequester funds for all kinds of research have been cut, which is a real tragedy. We need money for basic research that could benefit all kinds of cancer–at many levels they aren’t that different from each other. When it comes to organ-specific research, the squeaky wheel gets the oil. Men were not as persuasive in getting funds for prostate cancer, and colon cancer is still something no one wants to talk about very much. We know that colonoscopy can reduce the incidence of colorectal cancer substantially, but it is so unpleasant that even people with familial risks often refuse to have it done. Pancreatic and ovarian cancer are fortunately rare, but there is no good early detection for either of them. However, I do believe that the best ideas in this area are passing peer review and being funded. There just aren’t enough good ideas! My mother died of metastatic liver disease at age 80, the primary tumor was unknown. As I am now almost 76, I hope that 23&me will offer some clue–although I don’t expect it. My father died from heart attack at 63, so perhaps I should be more concerned with my high cholesterol (which I am).

  • It’s quite shocking to see the results in that pictorial form.