Heredity and Cancer

A person's genes determine their development and characteristics. When a cell becomes malignant, changes occur in several of the genes causing it to grow and divide uncontrollably. In most cases, these changes take place in the cancerous cell itself and are not transmitted to the next generation. Most cases of cancer are not hereditary.

In rare cases, there is a genetic mutation that involves cancer risk, and this is hereditary. The individual that carries this type of mutation has a greater risk of developing cancer. The development of a tumor depends on a number of other genetic changes, therefore not every carrier will develop a tumor however, the risk is greater among carriers. Changes to different genes involve increased risk for various tumors. The descendents of carriers have a 50% chance of inheriting the damaged gene from their parents.

To date, researchers have discovered a number of genes related to cancer. The most common are connected to breast cancer, ovarian cancer, uterine cancer and colorectal cancer. Generally speaking, carriers are recommended to have special monitoring and conduct preventive measures to reduce the incidence of illness and death.

Most cases of cancer are not hereditary in nature. Nevertheless, among families where there have been several cases of cancer, or in cases where the disease occurred at a relatively young age, there is a greater chance that the cancer is hereditary.

What should I do if I am concerned about my family history?
For most people with a family history of cancer, the risk of a hereditary genetic component is small. Nonetheless, a history of cancer in the family increases the chance of the disease occurring among other family members and justifies monitoring, identification and prevention. We recommend updating and consulting with your family doctor about this.