Some types of cancers run in certain families, but most cancers are not clearly linked to the genes we inherit from our parents. Gene changes that start in a single cell over the course of a person’s life are typically what cause most cancers.
Sometimes, it seems that certain types of cancer run in families. This may be because family members have risk factors in common, such as smoking and obesity that can influence a family member’s cancer risk. In some cases, cancer is caused by an abnormal gene that is passed from generation to generation. This may be referred to as inherited cancer but what is inherited is the abnormal gene, not cancer itself. About 5 to 10 percent of all cancers result directly from gene defects inherited from a parent.
Learn more about hereditary cancer from American Cancer Society:
Family Cancer Syndromes – When to gather more information and when to consult a doctor.
When cancer occurs in a family, it is most often due to chance or that family members have been exposed to a common toxin, like cigarette smoke. Less often, cancers are caused by an inherited gene mutation. Certain situations make the result of an inherited gene mutation more likely, such as:
- Cases of an uncommon or rare type of cancer (like kidney cancer)
- Cancers occurring at younger ages than usual (like colon cancer in a 20-year-old)
- More than one type of cancer in a single person (like a woman with both breast and ovarian cancer)
- Cancers occurring in a pair of organs (such as both eyes, both kidneys, both breasts)
- More than one childhood cancer in siblings (ex: sarcoma in both a brother and a sister)
- Cancer occurring in a gender not usually affected (like breast cancer in men)
A few questions to ask your family about hereditary cancer
- Who is affected? How are we related?
- What type of cancer is it? Is it rare?
- How old was this relative when they were diagnosed?
- Did this person get more than one type of cancer?
- Did they smoke or have other known risk factors?
Cancer in a close relative, like a parent or sibling, is more of a cause for concern than a distant relative.
Take the time to answer a few questions in our Hereditary Quiz. It’s best to stay informed and in-tune with your body. No one knows your body better than you.
OB-GYN Women’s Centre of Lakewood Ranch
We are here for women throughout every stage of their life. If you have any questions about your body or your family’s history with cancer, please contact us. We are happy to help anyone in need of assistance and guidance.