Cancer is a common disease, so most families will have some members who have had cancer. This means even if cancer does not run in a family, a family member can still be at risk for some type of cancer in his or her lifetime.
Hereditary vs. Sporadic Cancer
Sporadic cancer and hereditary cancer differ in several ways that may affect health care decisions
Hereditary cancers are caused in part by gene mutations passed on from parents to their children. Other blood relatives may share these same gene changes. Sporadic cancers are believed to arise from gene damage acquired from environmental exposures, dietary factors, hormones, normal aging, and other influences.
Hereditary cancers can sometimes be more aggressive than the sporadic form of the same cancer. For example, hereditary prostate cancers tend to be more aggressive and more likely to spread than sporadic prostate cancers.
Individuals who have inherited a gene change may be at a higher risk for more than one type of cancer. For cancer survivors, this may affect cancer treatment options, prevention, or follow-up care.
Hereditary cancers are those caused by an inherited gene mutation that increases the risk for one or more types of cancer. "Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Syndrome" (HBOC) is most commonly caused by mutations in one of two genes: BRCA1 and BRCA2.
BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations increase the risk for breast, ovarian, pancreatic, prostate, melanoma, and possibly other cancers.
HBOC does not only affect women having a BRCA mutations can increase a man’s risk for pancreatic cancer, melanoma, and an increased risk for aggressive prostate cancer. Just as Importantly, as with women, men can pass on their inherited mutation to their sons and daughters.
Can Cancer Be Prevented?
People with a genetic predisposition to develop certain cancers and others with a history of cancers in their genetically linked relatives currently cannot change their genetic makeup. However, genetic DNA assessments can help identify individuals who have a high possibility of developing genetically linked cancer can take actions to prevent cancer development.
Such actions can include closer and more frequent observation to help detect a cancer at an early stage when the cancer is more likely to be potentially cured with treatment. Such observations can include breast exams, testicular exams, colon-rectal exams, certain blood tests, prostate exams, urine tests and others.
An individual patient's unique personal and family circumstances should always be considered by doctors in making recommendations about ordering or not ordering genetic DNA assessments. Of course, people who have any suspicion that they may have cancer should discuss their concerns with their doctor as soon as possible
Early Detection is Critical
People with the following should discuss the possibility of genetic testing with a genetic counselor:
Why Take a Hereditary Cancer Test?
Because the genes we are born with may contribute to our risk of developing certain types of cancer, some people are genetically predisposed, and therefore, although they may not necessarily get cancer, they have a higher risk of developing the disease than those in the general population.
Additionally, these mutations are usually inherited from one or both of the person’s parents and are present in nearly every cell of the body. Because hereditary mutations are present in the DNA of sperm and egg cells, they can be passed down in families.
Some of the Genes We Assess for Mutations and Why We Do
People with the following should discuss the possibility of a genetic DNA assessment with their doctor
Ovarian, fallopian tube, or primary peritoneal cancer
Breast cancer at age 50 or younger
Two separate breast cancers
A type of breast cancer called “triple negative breast cancer”
Male breast cancer
Prostate cancer at age 55 or younger or metastatic prostate cancer (cancer that spread outside the prostate)
Eastern European Jewish ancestry and any of the above cancers at any age
Especially, if more than one family member on the same side of your family has had:
Ovarian, fallopian tube, primary peritoneal cancer