Is Cancer Hereditary?

By | October 8, 2018

“Is cancer Hereditary?” If you are asking that question, you are not alone! Cancer has become such a common disease that almost everyone has a relative who has cancer. To put it plainly, almost everyone has a family member suffering from cancer.

Is Cancer Hereditary?

It is true that some cancers are hereditary and their cause is a genetic mutation. This increases the risk of family members developing the disease. It’s scary, right? But don’t panic. There are a lot more factors that you should remember before you panic and jump to conclusions.

While some cancers are hereditary, not all are. Research your family’s medical history to know about genetic mutations. If cancer has been present in your family’s medical history, act.

Now That You Know that Cancer is Hereditary, What Now?

If there is a medical history of cancer in your family, here are 10 things that you should consider: –

Not All Genetic Mutations Are Hereditary

While it is true that genetic mutation is the reason for the occurrence of cancer, it is also true that not all genetic mutations are hereditary. Cancer is caused because of uncontrolled cell division, which leads to the formation of a tumour. However, while this cell division can be hereditary, due to the presence of a mutant gene, it can also be due to other external factors like smoking or consumption of excessive alcohol.

Most of the Common Cancers are because of Inherited Mutant Genes

It is believed that the following cancers are inherited:

a) Ovarian cancer
b) Colon cancer
c) Prostate cancer
d) Breast cancer
e) Pancreas cancer
f) Endometrial cancer
g) Stomach cancer
h) Kidney cancer
i) Melanoma cancer of the skin

Other cancers, though rare, are also inherited. These include BRCA1 and 2. They increase the risk of a number of other cancers.

Signs that Tell You If the Cancer is Hereditary

Smoking is environmental cancer. If your dad died of lung cancer, research a little to find the causes of his cancer. It is probably his heavy smoking. When multiple members of the same family are diagnosed with the same type of cancer before the age of 50, it’s a safe bet that their cancer was inherited. Cancers such as breast or pancreatic and thyroid, to name a few are inherited.

See Who in Your Family Has Cancer

Mutant genes can skip a generation. However, if your grandmother and your mother both have ovarian cancer, then it is a cause for concern – more than a cousin having it.

Some Mutant Genes are Specific in a Group

People, whose ancestors are from Eastern Europe, Russia or Germany, have more risk of having BRCA 1 and 2 mutant genes. Similarly, people who are African Americans, have a higher risk of colon cancer than Caucasians.

Investigate Your Family’s Cancer History

While older relatives are hypochondriacs, not many of them would like to share their medical information. As they grow older, they have newer ‘’medical problems’’ but they will not share information on old serious illnesses. You will need to have ‘’cancer conversations’’ with them to get them to share this information. Write it down. Collect information from as many relatives as you can and write it down. You may need it later in your life.

Not Everyone Needs Testing

People having ethnic background have to be more careful and should schedule routine testing, more than Caucasians. While it is known than only one-third of cancer is inherited, it is true that there is even lesser information on less than 10% of cancers. Cancer cannot be detected if you don’t know where to look.

Get Insurance

If you have a history of cancer in your family, then you will get insurance cover. Save yourself a lot of trouble by consulting a genetic counsellor.

Opt for all Cancer Screenings that is Available under the Insurance

Make use of all the screening tests available under the insurance. That will help detect cancer early and, if detected early, it can be treated. Do get skin checks done if there have been cases of melanoma in your family. Do schedule annual visits to your gynaecologist, if there has been a history of breast or ovarian cancer in your family.

Change Lifestyle to Lower Cancer Risk

If there is a history of cancer in your family, then isn’t it better to opt for a healthy lifestyle to lower the risk? Swap in a healthy lifestyle like quitting smoking or eating unhealthy foods. Cut down on red meat and opt for a diet rich in vegetables and fruits.


If the cancer is inherited, then the mutant gene is present in the sperm or egg that formed the embryo. Since all the cells of the child come from this sperm or egg, it is safe to assume that the gene mutation has been passed down to the child. If the mutation is acquired, it has not been passed from the parent but has come later.

While many cancers are inherited, the most common cancers are caused by the acquired mutant genes. People with cancer in their family should try and learn about their genetic makeup to help them plan their medical care. Inherited mutations can be detected by genetic testing if you are aware of the kind of cancer that runs in your family. This testing would be most helpful.

It is a well-known fact that early detection of cancer is essential for successful treatment. Getting the right insurance cover for genetic testing can help you. Get the advice of a genetic counsellor when you are opting for insurance cover. Learn what tests and illnesses would be covered and plan your health care accordingly. It is important that you understand genetic testing and know what this testing will look for – the kind of mutations that run in your family and the kind of cancer that has already claimed your family members.

Predictive genetic testing will help look for the inherited mutant gene and help in treatment.

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