Know Your Cancer Family History
Some cancers are caused by an abnormal gene that is being passed along from generation to generation. This is known as family cancer syndrome. According to the American Cancer Society, only about 5 to 10 percent of all cancers are caused by gene mutations inherited from a parent.
Before you decide that cancer runs in your family, be sure to carefully evaluate each situation. For each case of cancer, ask the following questions:
- Who is affected? How are we related?
- What type of cancer is it? Is it rare?
- How old was this relative when they were diagnosed?
- Did this person get more than one type of cancer?
- Did they smoke or have other known risk factors?
Asking these questions for each case of cancer will help you determine if a certain type of cancer runs in your family. Things to keep in mind include the following:
- Relatives—Generally, cancer in a close, blood-related relative, like your mom or brother, is more concerning (in regards to family cancer syndrome) than cancer in a distant relative or a relative who is not related to you by blood. Also, if multiple relatives who are related to each other have cancer, there is a higher cause for concern.
- Type of Cancer—If more than one case of the same rare cancer runs in your family, the chance that this cancer is a family cancer syndrome is relatively high. In cases of extremely rare cancers, the risk of family cancer syndrome is high even if only one relative has it.
Additionally, if more than one type of cancer occurs in many of your relatives, it is likely that it is a family cancer syndrome. In some cases, certain cancers tend to occur together in family cancer syndromes, so be sure to look for these.
Early detection of most types of cancer greatly increases the chances for successful treatment of the cancer. Knowing your family cancer history enables you to talk with your doctor about your personal cancer risk and establish a screening process to detect cancers that may run in your family.