Genes are instructions for how the cells of the body should function and grow. When changes called mutations happen in certain genes, cells can grow out of control and become cancerous.
Some gene changes are inherited, meaning they are passed from parent to child. When cancer develops because of an inherited gene change, it is hereditary cancer. People with an inherited gene mutation may have a much higher risk of developing a cancer than most people. These people are said to have a hereditary cancer syndrome.
Cancer is a common disease, but less than 10% of cases are hereditary. Family members may wonder if they could be at higher risk of cancer, especially if several family members have been diagnosed.
If you are concerned about the history of cancer for you and/or your family, you may benefit from the Hereditary Cancer Clinic.
Some of the features seen in families appropriate for referral include:
For breast cancer families:
For colon and rectal cancer families:
Other tumors/cancers that may warrant referral:
If you are concerned about your risk of cancer, genetic counseling can help you understand your risks and options.
By understanding your personal cancer risk, you may be able to:
Genetic testing is available for several genes known to cause hereditary cancer syndromes. Genetic testing can:
Genetic testing is usually done with a small blood sample. Sometimes, a mouth rinse sample can be used instead of blood.
If possible, genetic testing should be started in a person who has had cancer. This is because a family member with cancer has the highest chance of having a gene mutation. If all family members that have had cancer have passed away, genetic testing can be started in a person without cancer first.