Cancer has left a huge mark on one young man’s life, prompting him to pursue oncology and help others wage war against the disease.
Rehan Siddiqui, a 19-year-old student at Rice University, is currently testing new pediatric cancer drugs at Texas Children’s Hospital (TCH) in Houston. Yet his knowledge of cancer extends well beyond the walls of the laboratory. His father died of brain cancer in 2011, his mother survived ovarian cancer in 2016, and he himself was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of 16.
“I have just known cancer my whole life. It was always in the back of my mind that I wanted to pursue a career in oncology,” Siddiqui said, according to WFAA.
Despite this, his own diagnosis came as a surprise.
“I just couldn’t believe it, I think. Because both of my parents had cancer,” he told the news outlet. “I just thought, I don’t know, it would be crazy for me to get it as well.”
Up to 10% of all cancers are potentially caused by inherited genetic changes, according to the National Cancer Institute. Cancers that tend to be inherited are those affecting the breasts, ovaries, pancreas, and prostate.
However, inheriting a cancer-related gene does not guarantee that a person will fall ill. It only increases the risk, much like lifestyle factors like obesity, smoking, alcoholism, and maintaining an unhealthy diet.
For instance, being overweight or obese is believed to heighten the risk of certain cancers due to the conditions triggering inflammation in the body as well as impacting how the body manages hormones.
Despite many cancers being preventable, new diagnoses are on the rise worldwide, especially among those under the age of 50, as a study appearing in the British Medical Journal revealed in September. In fact, early-onset cancer increased by 79.1% globally between 1990 and 2019, with the number of early-onset cancer deaths growing by 27.7%.
Siddiqui beat his own cancer this summer after two years of chemotherapy at TCH. His boss at TCH, Dr. Alexandra Stevens, thinks that the experience gives Siddiqui a special edge in the oncology profession.
“He has insight into the struggles of patients and families going through difficult diagnoses and difficult treatment plans. He has everything he would need to become a great physician,” Stevens told WFAA.
Rather than letting cancer cast a dark shadow over his life, Siddiqui uses it as a driving force and hopes to help others defeat this dreaded disease.