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Is cancer hereditary

Is cancer hereditary

You might be aware that several factors play a role in the development of cancer in the body, and genes inherited from the parents are one of them. Even a slight change in the gene can result in an alteration of some bodily functions leading to cancer. Although genetic mutations may cause cancer, it accounts for only 5 to 10 percent of cancers. You will get to know about some cancers that may be inherited here.

Inheritance of cancer

Inheriting the genes from one’s family can be pretty disturbing for anyone. People do fear the passing of genes from generation to generation. So, if you ask if cancer is hereditary, the answer is yes, but it’s like one out of ten people only. On the other hand, the presence of genetic mutations puts at a higher risk of developing cancer.

Sometimes, family members get the same type of cancer. It may not be due to the inheritance of genes. It may be due to their similar lifestyle choices and the same environmental conditions. For example, they may share the same habits like alcohol consumption, smoking, etc.

Types of genetic mutation

Cancer is an uncontrollable and abnormal growth of the cells in the body. Such mutations can cause the unusual growth of the cells. Genetic mutation can alter the functioning of the cells. For example, a mutation in the gene can affect cell growth and cell division. It can lead to very rapid cell division or very sluggish cell division. It all depends on what gene got affected. This kind of mutation can be inherited or passed on from the parents to their children.

Let us talk about the type of mutation that can occur in the genes:

  • Inherited gene mutation: These kinds of mutation occur in the egg cell or sperm. When the foetus develops from such egg cells or sperm, the mutation is transferred to the baby or foetus. So, the child is at risk of getting the disease due to the mutation, and he or she can even pass it to the next generation.
  • Acquired gene mutation: These kinds of mutation occur in the cells of the body other than the reproductive parts. It may result from damage to the DNA due to exposure to several environmental factors. It might be passed to the cells formed from the cells with mutations. So, not all the cells in your body can be affected. Since mutations are not present in the reproductive cells, it stays within a single generation.

What if you inherit mutated genes?

If you have any mutated genes, you are at an increased risk of getting cancer. But you should note that mere inheritance of the genetic mutation linked to cancer is not enough. You inherit two sets of the same genes from both of your parents. If one of the genes is mutated while the other one is not mutated and functional, it is less likely that you will develop cancer. It happens because the other gene takes care of your bodily and cellular functions. And hence, it keeps you away from getting this disease. Unfortunately, the other gene is also mutated, or gets harmed by exposure to any carcinogens, cancer may affect you.

How to identify if cancer may be inherited

The first thing to notice is the number of cancer cases in your family. Your family may have a history of the family members affected by the same or different types of cancer. You may look at these hints too:

  • Family members having the same type of cancer
  • Too many occurrences of cancer
  • Any family member may have more than one type of cancer
  • Your siblings with cancer
  • Cancer cases in many generations

Genetic Mutations and inherited cancer syndrome

Cancer cases due to the inheritance of genetic mutation are about 5 percent. Many genetic mutations can lead to cancer. You can link these mutations to a specific cancer type. Some of them are:

BRCA1 and BRCA2

These mutations can make a woman more susceptible to breast and ovarian cancer. On the other hand, a man with this genetic mutation has an increased risk of getting breast and prostate cancer. 

Cowden Syndrome

A gene called PTEN is responsible for this syndrome. If a woman has this mutation, then she is more likely to develop breast and uterine cancer than other women. This genetic mutation also increases the risk of getting thyroid cancer in both men and women.

Familial Adenomatous Polyposis

A mutation in the APC gene may lead to this syndrome. This mutation puts you at an increased risk of getting colorectal cancer and brain tumours.

Li-Fraumeni Syndrome

Li-Fraumeni syndrome is very rare. Most people with this syndrome have a mutation in the gene TP53 gene. This mutation can increase the risk of many types of cancer, such as soft tissue sarcomas, breast cancer, leukaemia, lung cancer, brain tumours, and adrenal gland cancer.

Lynch syndrome

This syndrome can increase the risk of colorectal cancer. The mutation can be in the genes like MLH1, MSH2, MSH6, or PMS2. 

Genetic testing

As said earlier, cancer can happen due to a variety of reasons. You likely want to do genetic testing to test whether you have any genetic mutations. Genetic testing can surely give you more insight into your genetic makeup, and also inform you of any inherited mutated genes. But it may not be necessary in your case. So, you should talk to your specialist before doing any genetic testing. Your doctor will ask you about your family cases of cancer. If your specialist feels the need for genetic testing, your other family members might have to give the same test. Genetic testing gives comprehensive information about your genes rather than a simple yes or no answer. So, you will need a genetic counsellor to guide you through the results. 

Summing up

Cancer does happen due to the inheritance of genetic mutations. But in most cases, it is not the cause of getting this disease. Only five to ten percent of cancer cases are due to mutations in the gene. Still, you should be aware of the possible risk factors to stay a step ahead. 

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