I am a 22-year-old woman who is going out with a young man whose sister died of lymphoma when she was in her early 20s. I was wondering whether there is any danger of a cancer gene in the family, or is lymphoma not caused by a gene. I.S., Tel Aviv Prof. Ephrat Levy-Lahad, head of the medical genetics unit at Jerusalem's Shaare Zedek Medical Center, replies: The vast majority of lymphomas are not related to an inherited predisposition, and if there is a single case of lymphoma in the family I would not be concerned. If there is more than one case in the family or if you are very worried, you can go with the young man for genetic counseling. I am a 49-year-old man who has no real health complaints except occasional lower back pain. I exercise but am a bit (eight kilos) overweight. Is there anything I can do that can minimize or even prevent lower-back-pain attacks? D.K., Holon Dr. Santhosh Thomas, medical director of the Cleveland Clinic's Spine Center, comments: The US National Institutes of Health estimates that eight out of 10 people will suffer from back pain, making it one of the most common medical problems today. It affects women and men equally and can happen at any age. The good news is that you can treat it, reduce it and even prevent it by following some back-friendly guidelines. The better physical condition you're in, the less likely you'll injure your back. That's why everybody can benefit from strong abdominal and back muscles. Many factors can cause lower back pain. Fortunately, most cases are not serious and respond to simple, non-invasive treatments. Trauma and injuries from sprains and strains are common culprits, but pain can also stem from degenerative conditions such as arthritis and osteoporosis. Bone disease, viral infections, irritation to joints, disc herniation and congenital abnormalities in the spine can also cause an achy back. Poor body mechanics can cause problems, too. If you've overdone physical activity, even pulling up weeds, the result is likely to be a sore back. Even sleeping awkwardly one night can give you a stiff back. Age also plays a part. As you get older, bone strength and muscle elasticity decrease, while your spinal discs begin to lose fluid and flexibility, which decreases their ability to cushion the spine's vertebrae. Certain health-related conditions and habits - such as obesity, stress, poor posture and smoking - can make it worse. Because it's such a common problem, it might be tempting to regard back pain as a minor matter. But it's important to seek medical care if you experience severe pain, particularly pain that wakes you at night and radiates from your back into your legs, or pain that doesn't go away in a reasonable amount of time. These symptoms could indicate more serious conditions than just a strained muscle. Remember, however, that surgery is the last resort for most conditions. Fortunately, most cases of lower back pain can be treated at home. Ice or a cold pack can ease soreness, although some people find more relief from applying heat or taking a hot shower or bath. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) are also helpful. If you find such remedies don't help, muscle relaxants or prescription-strength pain medicine may be prescribed. Your doctor may also refer you to a specialist for physical therapy targeted at easing the pain as well as strengthening your back muscles. Once your pain has subsided enough to allow you to comfortably move about, exercise is recommended. Anything that keeps your joints moving and maintains flexibility is good for you. Walking, biking and swimming are particularly beneficial if you suffer from back pain. Rx For Readers welcomes queries from readers about medical problems. Experts will answer those we find most interesting. Write Rx For Readers, The Jerusalem Post, POB 81, Jerusalem 91000, fax your question to Judy Siegel-Itzkovich at (02) 538-9527, or e-mail it to email@example.com, giving your initials, age and residence.