While it’s good to think about what to get dad for Father’s Day this Sunday, it’s even more important to consider what he has already given you—great advice, good looks and possibly some serious health risks.
Despite the findings of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s report that fewer people are dying from heart disease, it’s still the leading cause of death in men and women.[i] Looking at your father’s health history might clue you in on whether or not you’re headed down the same path. “If your father had symptoms of heart disease, a heart attack or bypass surgery in his 40s, that would increase your risk,” says HealthiNation’s Paul Knoepflmacher, MD, an internist in Manhattan and a clinical instructor of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital. “If your dad had a heart attack at age 80 that doesn’t have the same weight as if he had it early, say, before age 50,” he adds.
The good news is your father’s fate doesn’t necessarily seal yours. Find out which of these five health risks you may have inherited, then talk to your doctor about how to prevent them.
1) Heart Disease: Too often men write off the symptoms of heart disease as indigestion or a strained shoulder. “Men tend to minimize things, like ‘I thought it was going to go away on its own,’ and they don’t seek care as regularly as women do,” Dr. Knoepflmacher says. Symptoms you should never ignore chest pressure, chest pain, shortness of breath, or an ache that radiates from your chest to your jaw or arm. If you smoke, have a family history of heart disease or suffer from high cholesterol or high blood pressure, talk to your doctor now about whether you need further testing. “Heart disease is a totally preventable cause of death, so you can decrease your risk factors by simply quitting smoking, exercising and watching your diet,” he says.
Read more about heart disease.
2) Diabetes: Type 2 diabetes, which makes up 90 to 95 percent of all diagnosed cases[ii], has a strong link to family history, so if you’re dad has diabetes, you’re at higher risk of developing it as well as heart disease (diabetes is associated with plaque build-up in arteries). However, there is a loophole: “If you’re a marathon runner and are good at eating right and keeping your weight down and then this isn’t something you’ll really have to worry about,” Dr. Knoepflmacher says. If 26.2 miles seems a bit far, start with a 5K run. Research says that if you lose weight and boost your physical activity level, you can lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 58 percent over the course of three years.[iii] Read more about diabetes.
3) Prostate Cancer: It’s the most common cancer in men, but even if you have it, there’s a good chance it won’t kill you. “Many men who have prostate cancer have a relatively benign disease,” Dr. Knoepflmacher says. “There’s a lot of controversy about when to screen for prostate cancer because the treatments have potentially negative side effects, such as impotence and incontinence, and the fact is many men die with prostate cancer rather than of it. We end up treating a disease that was never destined to kill you.” If your dad or brother developed prostate cancer, your odds of developing it may by two to three times greater.[iv] So, talk to your doctor about a game plan that makes sense for you.
4) Skin Cancer: Share the same fair skin as dad? Both of you might be predisposed to developing skin cancer, especially if you had a lot of sunburns as a kid, warns Dr. Knoepflmacher. Keep an eye on your moles (are they changing shape or color?) as well as sores (are they healing properly?). If anything looks strange, get your skin checked ASAP. Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer and it has a strong genetic link, unlike other types of skin cancers. If you haven’t already downloaded this app, check it out now: SpotCheck (free on iTunes) lets you upload photos of your most worrisome moles to a team of board-certified dermatologists, who will review them. You’ll hear back within 24 hours whether you need to schedule an appointment with a dermatologist to check out any suspicious-looking moles.
5) Colon Cancer: Everyone should start getting screened for this disease—the second leading cancer killer in men and women—at age 50. But if you’re mom or dad has developed it, you should talk to your doctor about getting screened earlier, especially if either developed it before age 50. “You would need to start colon cancer screening (colonoscopy) 10 years before your parent developed it,” advises Dr. Knoepflmacher. “So if one or the other of your parents were diagnosed at age 40, you’ll need to start getting tested at age 30.”
Read more about colorectal cancer.