The commonality of cancer means that a family can see multiple types and occurrences of the disease across generations.
Lifestyle choices, like smoking, can make specific types of cancer more prevalent in families. In families, there is an increased likelihood that behaviors will recur. This applies to behaviors connected to diseases as well. Obesity that recurs within families can yield similar results. It’s important to assess whether familial hierarchies and correlating social patterns put family members at a collective risk for developing cancer.
Beyond lifestyle choices and behaviors, abnormal genes can cause cancer when passed from one generation to another.Cancer itself is not inherited, but the gene mutation that makes it more likely can be easily passed on and impactful as families grow. These types of gene mutations and the resulting instances of cancer associated with them account for 5-10% of cancer occurrences. This percentage is significant, and getting tested for such mutations is the best way to know if your family needs to take preventative action.
A mutation or abnormal change in a gene affects how it functions. It can even stop a gene from working altogether or keep it permanently turned on when the body doesn’t need it to do anything. These lead to problems in our cells. Each cell in the body contains all the genes we’re born with. Different cells utilize different genes, so they don’t all need to be active at the same time.
Gene mutations can be:
- inherited, which means present at fertilization
- acquired (somatic), which means passed on from one cell to another and not originating from a parent
Many cancer syndromes that recur within families are caused by inherited gene mutations in tumor suppressor genes. These genes slow cell division, repair DNA errors and tell cells when to terminate as part of an internal management protocol.
Genetic testing can provide valuable insight to you and your family’s health, allowing you to be proactive about your future with a personalized care plan. Hereditary Cancer Support is here to help you along the way. You can also speak with a genetic counselor to interpret the results of your genetic test.
Take our quiz to see if you might be at risk for a hereditary cancer syndrome or give us a call at (855) 252-8124 to speak with one of our Patient Care Coordinators.