Is My Cancer Hereditary?

A new diagnosis of cancer, especially a rare cancer, can raise more questions than answers, even after meeting with many specialists.  Often patients diagnosed with a rare cancer wonder “Why did I get this cancer?”  “Does this mean my family members, my children, brothers or sisters are at risk for cancer too?”  “What can I do? What can they do?”

Sarcomas, cancers of the bone or soft tissue (including muscle), are one of these rare cancers that many people may not be aware of until a friend or loved one is diagnosed. For most patients diagnosed with sarcoma, the cause is not known.  There are some known risk factors that increase risk for sarcoma.  Excessive exposure to chemicals or radiation has been linked to an increased risk of developing sarcoma. Certain genetic, or inherited, conditions can also be associated with sarcomas.

If you, a friend or family member has been diagnosed with sarcoma, it may be helpful to ask some questions about your family history.  Sit down with your family members, and ask:

  • Have any other family members had cancer?  Relatives with sarcoma, breast cancer, colon cancer, leukemia or lymphoma are especially important.
  • How old were relatives when they were diagnosed with cancer?
  • Have any children in the family had cancer?

As you gather this information, share it with your oncologist or primary care physician, and talk with him or her about whether a referral for genetic counseling and genetic testing may be helpful. Genetic counselors and physicians in our Cancer Genetics Clinic can review your family history and help to determine if genetic testing may be needed.  They can also talk with you about possible results of genetic testing, and how this information would be used.  If the cancer risk in your family is inherited, special screening may be recommended to help with early detection and prevention.

Prostate Cancer and Genetics

One in six men will develop prostate cancer in their lifetime. Age and race are two of the most recognized risk factors, but some risk factors can be inherited. Large scale population studies of men who have brothers or fathers with prostate cancer have shown an increase in risk that is two to three times the general population.

Some clues to inherited risk within a family include:

  • Cancer diagnosed at earlier ages than typically expected (under 40)
  • Families with multiple individuals with prostate cancer
  • Other cancers in family members including:
    • Breast cancer
    • Ovarian or uterine cancer
    • Pancreatic cancer
    • Colorectal cancer

People concerned about their families’ history of prostate and other cancer may benefit from meeting with a genetic counselor in the Cancer Genetics Clinic to talk about cancer risk, possible genetic testing, screening options or research opportunities. Families who find that they are at a higher risk for prostate cancer and other cancers can benefit from increased screening and prevention options.

Approximately 5-10% of prostate cancers are thought to be related to high risk susceptibility genes, which can be passed from parent to child. Some genes are currently well known, while it is likely some still remain to be discovered. Some of these genes may also be linked to an increase in risk for additional cancers.

Research is ongoing at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center and elsewhere to learn and discover new genes associated with a strong family history of prostate cancer.

Continue reading about cancer genetics and prostate canceral

Your Family’s History of Cancer- Talk About it and Pass it On

Researchers have known for some time that cancer is caused from changes in a person’s genes. This could be from exposure to something in the environment (such as cigarette smoke), inherited from a parent or grandparent, or a combination of these. Your genetic makeup is only one factor that determines whether you will develop cancer.

Most cancers occur in people without a known family history of cancer. But some types of cancer can be inherited.

Talk about it

Your family health history may extend to many different family members, so start by finding out who in your family has had a diagnosis of cancer. Cancer is common so  don’t be surprised if you learn that several family members have had cancer. Keep in mind that some may not wish to share private health information. In that case, explain that you are asking to help plan your own and other family members’ health future. That may make the person feel more comfortable sharing. Continue reading