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.

Sarcoma: Seeking Care for a Rare Cancer

Sarcoma – a cancer most people have never heard of….it’s rare; only 1% of all cancers diagnosed in adults and 15% of childhood cancers are sarcoma.

There are numerous types of sarcoma classified according to where the tumor originates in the body.  For example, bone sarcomas begin in the bone; soft tissue sarcoma may start in the muscle, tendons, fat or other tissues that support, connect or surround organs, joints, blood vessels or nerves.

It’s not surprising when the diagnosis is a rare cancer- like sarcoma, that patients and family can experience a wide range of emotions including:

  • Shock- if the person is not feeling  ill or having pain
  • Distress and vulnerability with the realization of facing a life threatening illness
  • Confusion surrounding understanding complex medical information

Many people with a new diagnosis of sarcoma are not sure what to do, or what kind of doctor to see. Continue reading

U.S. Senate commemorates National Cancer Act

Betsy de Parry

Betsy de Parry

Betsy de Parry, a contributor to mCancerTalk, posted an interesting column on a Senate resolution commemorating the 40th anniversary of National Cancer Act. Gary Hammer, M.D., Ph.D., Millie Schembechler Professor of Adrenal Cancer and director of the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Endocrine Oncology Program, played a key role in drafting language in the resolution related to rare cancers. Take a look at what Betsy has to say about the resolution at AnnArbor.com.