Many families have more than one member who has developed cancer. This is oftentimes due to risk factors that are shared within families, such as environmental exposures of lifestyle habits (such as obesity or smoking). Other times it is due to shared genetic risk for cancer.
Cancer is described in three ways
- SPORADIC CANCER
Sporadic cancer is the type that occurs by chance and is the most common. People who develop sporadic cancer usually do not have family members who have had the same type of cancer.
- FAMILIAL CANCER
Familial cancer is caused by a combination of genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors. While people with this type of cancer may have several relatives with the same type of cancer, there is not a clear genetic explanation or pattern of inheritance.
- HEREDITARY CANCER
Hereditary cancer occurs when a gene that normally helps to prevent cancer is altered (or mutated). People with hereditary cancers are more likely to have relatives with the same type or a related type of cancer. In addition, they often develop cancer at younger ages and may also develop more than one cancer in their lifetime.
If you have a family history of cancer, you may carry an altered gene that impacts your risk.
Your family history and genetic test results are both valuable tools that your healthcare team can use to assess your personal risk for developing certain types of cancer.
What is your risk
Most cancers occur by chance. However, in some families, cancer occurs more often than we would expect based on chance alone.
If there is an inherited gene mutation in the family, cancer risks are much higher than in the general population.
What are some clues that a gene mutation could be running in my family?
- Cancers diagnosed younger than age 50
- Rare cancers (such as ovarian, pancreatic, metastatic prostate, breast cancer in both breasts, or breast cancer in a male)
- Three or more relatives with cancer
Genetic testing for cancer
If you suspect that you or someone you know may be at risk for hereditary cancer, genetic testing may be a helpful option. Testing may not be necessary for everyone, but you may be a candidate if you:
- Have a family history of cancer
- Have a personal history of cancer
- Come from a higher risk ancestry (such as Ashkenazi Jewish)
Our brief hereditary cancer quiz can help you determine whether genetic testing may be right for you. Genetic test results can help your healthcare provider determine your cancer risks and design a personalized plan to help you reduce those risks.