Is Cancer Hereditary?
Many families today often have more than one member who has developed cancer. This can be be the result of shared risk factors such as smoking or obesity; however, some family members may have cancers because they share a genetic risk.
Cancer can be described in three main categories:
- Sporadic cancer occurs at random, or by chance, and is the most common type of cancer. Individuals who develop sporadic cancer usually do not have family members with the same types of cancer.
- Familial cancer is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental risk factors. There may be several relatives in the family with the same type of cancer; however, there is no clear pattern of inheritance.
- Hereditary cancer occurs when a gene that would normally help prevent cancer has mutated or changed. Families with hereditary cancers are more likely to have multiple cases of cancer with the same type or a related type of cancer. In addition, these cancers often develop earlier, and individuals with hereditary cancer may also develop more than one cancer in their lifetime.
While all cancer is caused by the abnormal function of genes, most are the result of random mutations within individuals. While certain risk factors may run in families, only about 5% to 10% of all cancer cases are caused by inherited gene mutations. In hereditary cancer, a gene mutation can be passed from parent to child, from generation to generation. However because a parent has a gene does not mean that the child also carries it.
Potential Types of Hereditary Cancers
Certain cancers have the potential to be inherited. Some cases of these types of cancers are the result of environmental factors or simply by chance, genetics testing can evaluate if there is an underlying genetic cause to a cancer diagnosis.
Potential types of inherited cancers include:
- Breast Cancer
- Ovarian Cancer
- Colorectal Cancer
- Prostate Cancer
- Endometrial (Uterine) Cancer
- Melanoma Skin Cancer
- Pancreatic Cancer
Should You Participate in Genetic Testing?
If you have reason to suspect that you or someone you know may be at risk for hereditary cancer, genetic testing may be a helpful option. Genetic testing may not be necessary for everyone, but you may be a candidate if you:
- Have a family history of cancer
- Have a personal history of cancer
- Belong to an at-risk population
Your physician is your best resource for information and advice about screening, and you can talk with one of our genetic counselors to help you decide if it’s right for you. Before requesting a consultation you may want to complete this online assessment risk form to determine if you are in an at-risk category.
What Do The Results of Genetic Testing Mean?
If you choose to have genetic assessment tests run, an Optim Oncology genetic counselor will review the results with you and/or your family members. You do not need to be an Optim Oncology patient to participate in genetic counseling.
Once you have the results of the genetic tests the counselor can discuss options for preventive care and screening. They can also refer patients to support groups and other information resources that provide emotional support to the person receiving the results.
In some cases, a genetic counselor or doctor may suggest that other family members consider being tested for specific gene changes that indicate an increased risk of cancer. The decision to test other family members is personal. It requires a careful evaluation of family history and other factors as well as advice from a genetic counselor or other professional trained in genetics. In general, physicians rely on the family member who has been tested to share the genetic information with their relatives so that family members will know that a genetic condition has been identified in their family. Then, each family member will need to make their own decision regarding whether or not to be tested themselves.