Tornadoes, Hereditary Cancer, & the Duty to Warn

 Many cancer patients and cancer caregivers liken a cancer diagnosis to having their lives torn apart by a tornado.

As National Cancer Prevention Month winds down, I wanted to share one more thought on how far we still have to go in the quest to prevent cancer.

As a former cancer caregiver, now widower, I can understand comparing a cancer diagnosis to a tornado. Hereditary cancer literally ripped life apart. It absolutely destroyed hopes, dreams, and plans. It changed everything.

While I have never experienced a major tornado, I have experienced a few small ones at various times in my life here in Phoenix. (Yes, we have tornadoes in Arizona. And we even have warning systems in place here.) The last one that tore through my neighborhood happened while I was caring for my late wife as she fought stage 4 hereditary breast cancer. Fortunately, none of the tornadoes directly hit my house. But cancer did.

My wife’s horrible death from cancer was very preventable. The information that could have saved her life was available for years, but it did not get shared. She was never expressly warned of her risk of carrying an inherited mutation and her cancer risk. The Duty to Warn is something I feel very strongly about, be it tornadoes or inherited mutations.

You can read more about what happened to my late wife in a story I wrote for FORCE: Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered, https://www.facingourrisk.org/blog/an-individual-doesnt-get-cancer-a-family-does

More to think about:

According to the American Cancer Society, 609,820* people died of cancer in 2023. 10% of all cancers are hereditary. That means over 60,000 cancer deaths possibly could have been prevented if those at risk had been identified through genetic testing prior to diagnosis.