Does cancer run in families?
Common misconception is that cancer runs in your families by default.
But let me tell you one thing… Only 5-10% of all cancers are hereditary.
If several of your relatives have had cancer, you and your children may face an increased risk of getting the same disease. Knowing your family history can make a difference in preventing cancer.
A person inheriting gene mutations makes him more prone to develop certain types of cancer.
What exactly are these gene mutations?
Your body is made up of tiny building blocks called cells. Inside every cell is a set of chromosomes, nothing but DNA with genes. These genes give instructions to the cell to work properly. When a gene is permanently damaged or altered, they can no longer give correct instructions, this is called a gene mutation.
Gene mutations developed in your body during your life are called acquired gene mutations. Gene mutations passed from one of your parents to you are called an inherited mutation. Some gene mutations can be repaired by the body and some aren’t. Eventually, gene mutations might lead to abnormal cell function. These abnormal cells can multiply and grow out of control leading to cancer.
If you inherit a gene mutation from one of your parents , it does not mean you will get cancer. Acquired mutations adding to inherited mutations will fasten the cancer process .
If a family is affected by a gene mutation, there may be a pattern of cancers diagnosed in that family. For example, there may be:
- several people in the family who have the same types of cancer.
- people who were younger than usual when they were diagnosed.
- someone who has had more than one primary cancer. This means they have had cancer twice, not that one cancer has spread to another part of the body.
Cancer can sometimes run in families even if it is not caused by inherited gene mutations. For example, a shared environment or lifestyle, such as tobacco use, living near or working in chemical factories can cause similar cancers to develop among family members.
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If your family has a history of cancers, how do we tackle this further?
Genetic testing and Counselling:
Genetic testing screens for specific mutated genes which will estimate the risk of getting cancer in your lifetime. These tests cannot say if you will get cancer for sure, but it can tell you if you have a higher risk than most people.
Genetic Counsellors discuss the concerns about genetic testing in addition to possible results, benefits, risks and limitations of the testing.
What to be done, if you are tested positive for any specific gene mutations?
Genetic cancer risk can be managed based on the type of mutation leading to a specific cancer and level of risk, varied options will be suggested.
Cancer screening tests look for early signs of cancer or for changes that can happen before a cancer develops.
Risk-reducing surgeries like hysterectomy and mastectomy are offered to set of people, who are benefited by removing the organs before even the cancer develops
Risk-reducing drugs may be used to reduce the risk of certain cancer. Eg: Colorectal, Breast Cancer.
If you have an inherited cancer gene, planning a family is a crucial decision as there is a 50% chance that any child you have could inherit it from you. Hence the emphasis on genetic counselling before conception.
People are at higher risk who have inherited gene mutations, as they pass from one generation to another.
Knowing your family’s health history and getting genetic testing and Counselling helps to reduce your cancer risk.