For any disease, the first question that comes to our mind is whether it is communicable or not. How does it spread? By touch or through body fluids? Or is it hereditary?
Cancer has an ominous stigma attached to it. Anyone who comes in contact with it, even when they do not have it, possesses a fear in their mind. Fear for their life, fear for their family. Let’s look at some facts about hereditary cancers.
Is cancer hereditary?
Yes, some cancers are genetic or hereditary. They are more often seen in successive generations. The person with family history of cancer is at greater risk of developing cancer.
What is necessary for you to know when more than one family member is affected by cancer is to identify which type of cancer your family member(s) has had and if it is associated with any risk of familial inheritance. Cancers are caused by gene defects and can pass down generations, but the probability of it happening to every blood relative is not that high. There are also cancers that are not genetic or familial. Other factors, such as eating habits, lifestyle habits like smoking and socio economic conditions can affect this.
Cancer due to Gene Mutation
About 3% to 10% of all cancers are genetic or hereditary. They are a result of genetic mutations, which are passed along successive generations. Cancers like breast cancer, ovarian, colonic cancers and uterine cancer are not usually hereditary, but people with a family history of cancers are at a higher risk of developing cancers than others.
Does every gene mutation cause cancer?
Not every genetic defect results in cancer. The genes whose defect cause cancer are called cancer susceptibility genes. People having mutations known as BRCA or p53 are especially prone to cancers. These gene mutations are tested among healthy family members by cancer specialist by genetic screening.
Keep in mind that hereditary cancers and genetic cancers are not always the same although these terms appear to be synonymous. Most of the cancers have genetic basis i.e. they are caused due to genetic mutations which are acquired later in life. These genetic mutations when transmitted from father or mother to the child are called germline mutations and can cause cancer. These are called as hereditary cancer syndromes.
What to do if any blood relative has had cancer?
Consult a cancer specialist near you, if you have doubts. These doubts could arise if more than one family member has had same type of cancer, or if there is a family history of cancers which are caused by same genetic mutation (eg: breast and ovarian cancers among different members of a family). Also, cancer in siblings is not unheard of and can especially happen when cancer happens at a young age. One should have a yearly check-up anyway, especially if you have family history of cancer.
The oncologists at OncoXpert suggest that one should always have routine check-ups, especially with family history of cancer. This is the first step in cancer prevention or early cancer detection. If your oncologist suggests that you might have genetic mutation after studying your family history, he/she can ask you to proceed with the genetic screening.
Screening, Prevention and Treatment
Remember, even if you possess the genetic mutation, that does not necessarily mean that you will have cancer. You are at a higher risk of having it, but having a gene mutation is not a death sentence. Talk to your cancer specialist and genetic counsellor to learn about the genetic screening and risk assessment and consult the oncologist for steps to prevention, early detection and possible treatment.
Indian medical research and development have come a long way. Our oncologists at OncoXpert have helped numerous patients and their families to fight and win against cancer. Timely consultation can help you to prevent cancer even with the odds against you if you are diligent enough.
You need to get tested more frequently and diligently than usual people and need to maintain a healthy lifestyle.