Many patients often wonder whether cancer can be hereditary. This is an important question as understanding the hereditary risks associated with cancer can help individuals make informed decisions about their health.
In this blog, we will discuss the role of family history in cancer risk and the types of cancers that have a higher hereditary risk.
Understanding Family History
A pedigree chart can be very helpful in understanding a family’s history of cancer. Family members can be categorized into first, second, and third-degree relatives.
- First-degree relatives include parents, siblings, and children.
- Second-degree relatives consist of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and half-siblings.
- Third-degree relatives include cousins, great-grandparents, and great-aunts and uncles.
The risk of developing cancer is higher with first-degree relatives and reduces gradually with second and third-degree relatives as compared to the general population.
By understanding the cancer risk within a family, preventative measures can be taken.
Cancers with Higher Hereditary Risk
- Breast Cancer :
Breast cancer is the most common hereditary cancer. Inherited gene mutations, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2, can significantly increase the risk of developing breast cancer in both men and women.
- Ovarian Cancer :
Ovarian cancer is also linked to BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations. Women with these mutations have a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer as compared to the general population.
- Colon Cancer :
Hereditary Non-Polyposis Colorectal Cancer (HNPCC) or Lynch Syndrome is a genetic condition that increases the risk of colon cancer and other types of cancer, including endometrial, ovarian, and stomach cancers.
- Uterine Cancer :
Lynch Syndrome can also increase the risk of developing uterine or endometrial cancer. Women with this genetic condition are at a higher risk compared to the general population.
Interesting Read : Can Viruses Lead You to Cancer?
Sharing Family History with Your Doctor
Patients sometimes do not inform their doctors about their family history of cancer, either because they don’t want to share this information or they simply don’t remember.
However, during consultations, it is crucial for patients to answer their doctor’s questions about family history, as this information helps determine individual cancer risk factors.
Genetic Testing :
Various genetic testing panels are available to assess cancer risk. Somatic mutations are identified when a test is performed on a tumor sample, while germline mutations are identified through blood tests.
A positive germline test indicates a higher risk of developing cancer, and further testing may be recommended.
Steps to Take Post-Testing
Depending on the results of genetic testing, individuals may choose to take several preventative measures.
For example, if a patient’s mother had breast cancer due to a BRCA mutation, they may consider:
- Prophylactic bilateral mastectomy :
This procedure involves the removal of both breasts to reduce the risk of developing breast cancer.
- Prophylactic bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy :
This procedure involves the removal of both ovaries and fallopian tubes to reduce the risk of developing ovarian cancer.
These procedures significantly reduce the risk of developing cancer, bringing it closer to that of the general population.
Understanding the hereditary risks associated with cancer can help individuals make informed decisions about their health and take appropriate preventative measures.
While certain types of cancer have higher hereditary risks, sharing family history with healthcare providers and considering genetic testing can guide the decision-making process.
For more information or support, please feel free to reach out to healthcare professionals or support groups.
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