What Cancers are Inherited?

Nearly everyone has a family member who has had cancer—it is a common disease affecting 1 in 3 Americans. A common myth is that all cancers are genetic, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes family members have the same or similar cancers because they share the same environment or risk factors like smoking or obesity. In fact, fewer than 10 percent of cancers result from an inherited abnormal gene.

“Most often, when multiple cancers occur within a family, it is related to environmental factors or coincidence,” said Naomi Wands, RN, Community Cancer Education Coordinator at Memorial Medical Center.  “If you have concerns about family history of a specific cancer, it is important to share that information with your primary care provider and to discuss genetic counseling.”

Inherited cancers

Cancers that are linked to an inherited gene mutation are known as family cancer syndrome and usually have one or more of these traits:

  • The same type of cancer
  • Cancers that occur at a young age
  • Multiple types of cancer in one person
  • Cancers in both organ pairs, such as kidneys or breasts
  • Childhood cancers that occur in among two or more siblings
  • Cancers that spans multiple generations

Some types of inherited cancers include Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Syndrome (HBOC); Lynch syndrome, which is a form of colorectal cancer; and Li-Fraumeni syndrome, which can develop into multiple types of cancer.

It is important to be aware of your family’s history of cancer.  Although a person’s genetic makeup cannot be altered, there are lifestyle changes that can help reduce the risk of cancer,” said Wands. “Avoid tobacco products, incorporate exercise into your daily routine, maintain a healthy weight, choose healthy and nutritious foods and get your recommended screenings each year.”

Concerned about a family history of cancer?

Speak with your primary care provider or find a doctor:

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