The Truth: Is Cancer Hereditary?

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The Truth: Is Cancer Hereditary?

Hereditary cancer is caused by an inherited genetic mutation. It is typical to see a recurring pattern of cancer across two to three generations—like multiple individuals diagnosed with the same type of cancer(s) and individuals diagnosed with cancer much younger than average.

Familial cancer refers to cancer that appears to occur more frequently in families than is expected from chance alone. While no specific mutation has been linked to these cancers, familial cancer may have a hereditary component.

Sporadic cancer refers to cancer that occurs due to spontaneous mutations that accumulate over a person’s life. Sporadic cancer cannot be explained by a single cause. There are several factors that contribute to the development of sporadic cancer such as; aging, lifestyle, or environmental exposure. Hereditary cancer is always being tested and researched to be possible, or the percentage of it possibly occurring to someone. Research studies reveal that it is indeed possible but the percentage of it happening is quite low. Cancer is commonly acquired through gene's abnormal growth change. Only about 5-10% of all cancer cases occur in someone who inherited a genetic mutation that increases cancer risk, but even then, inherited genetic mutations play a great role in cancer development in a human's body.

Hereditary cancer causing genes, according to National Cancer Institute:

1.The most commonly mutated gene in all cancers is TP53, which produces a protein that suppresses the growth of tumors. In addition, germline mutations in this gene can cause Li-Fraumeni syndrome, a rare, inherited disorder that leads to a higher risk of developing certain cancers.

2.Inherited mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are associated with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome, which is a disorder marked by an increased lifetime risk of breast and ovarian cancers in women. Several other cancers have been associated with this syndrome, including pancreatic and prostate cancers, as well as male breast cancer.

3. Another gene that produces a protein that suppresses the growth of tumors is PTEN. Mutations in this gene are associated with Cowden syndrome, an inherited disorder that increases the risk of breast, thyroid, endometrial, and other types of cancer.

Genetic counseling is the process by which the patients or relatives at risk of an inherited disorder are being educated of the consequences and nature of the disorder, the probability of developing or transmitting it, and the options open to them in management and family planning. (For more information about the genetics of cancer, please visit

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