Some people have an inherited increased risk of getting cancer. This means that the risk is innate. It is unusual, and everyone who has an inherited risk does not get sick. An investigation can show if there is a risk of hereditary cancer. Then it is often possible to get help to reduce that risk.

In this text, you will find out more about hereditary cancer. For example, you may have one or more relatives who have had cancer and are wondering if it could also make you sick.

You who already have cancer may also benefit from investigating heredity.

What is hereditary cancer?

Genes are the same as an inheritance. Everyone has genes. You inherited your genes from the two people who contributed the egg and sperm when you were born.

Hereditary cancer is when a gene is altered in some way when you inherit it. It can make you easier to get cancer. You may not get cancer, but the risk is increased. Nor is it safe for the change to pass on to a child who inherits genes from you.

A gene change increases the risk of some or all cancers, not all cancers.

The gene change may have been in a genus for several generations.

Between five and ten percent of all cancers are hereditary. Here you can read more about how cancer occurs.

Genetic relatives have different significance for the risk

In this text, we write to close relatives and other relatives about those who may be of importance in assessing someone’s risk of hereditary cancer:

Close relatives

Close relatives are genetic parents, genetic siblings and genetic children.

Other relatives

Other relatives include genetic grandparents and genetic grandparents, genetic siblings to your genetic parents, genetic cousins ​​and your genetic grandchildren.

What Cancer Diseases Can Be Hereditary?

These cancers are most common among those who can sometimes be hereditary:

  • breast cancer
  • ovarian cancer
  • colon cancer and rectal cancer
  • uterine cancer
  • pancreatic cancer
  • malignant melanoma
  • prostate cancer.

Breast cancer and ovarian cancer can be hereditary

This may indicate hereditary breast or ovarian cancer: 

  • You or a close relative have had breast cancer before the age of 40.
  • You or a close relative have had breast cancer before the age of 50, and at least one additional or a close relative has had breast, ovarian, or pancreatic cancer regardless of age, or prostate cancer before age 65. A relative with breast cancer in both breasts is equated with two relatives who have cancer in one breast.
  • You or a close relative have had breast cancer before the age of 60, and at least two other close or other relatives have had breast cancer, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, or pancreatic cancer. A relative with breast cancer in both breasts is equated with two relatives who have cancer in one breast.
  • You or any relative is a man and has had breast cancer.
  • You or someone close or other relative has had ovarian cancer regardless of age.

An investigation can be done if one or more of the points in the list are correct.

Here you can read more about breast cancer, ovarian cancer prostate cancer, and pancreatic cancer.

Colon cancer, rectal cancer, and uterine cancer can be hereditary

This may indicate hereditary colon cancer, rectal cancer or uterine cancer:

  • You or any close or other relative have had colon, rectal or uterine cancer before the age of 50.
  • Two or more close relatives or other relatives have had colon cancer, rectal cancer or uterine cancer. One of the relatives got the disease before the age of 60.
  • Some of the following diseases are found in your immediate or other families: colon cancer, rectal cancer, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, small bowel cancer, gastric cancer or urinary tract cancer. It may be a relative who has several of the diseases or several relatives who have one of the diseases.
  • You or another relative has many polyps in the gut.

An investigation can be done if one or more of the items in the list are correct.

You can read more about colon cancer and rectal cancer, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, small bowel cancer, stomach cancer, and bladder cancer. You can read about polyps in the text Tumors and other growths.

Pancreatic cancer and malignant melanoma can be hereditary

This may indicate hereditary pancreatic cancer or malignant melanoma:

  • Two or more close relatives or other relatives have had pancreatic cancer.
  • Two or more close relatives or other relatives have had both inflammation and cancer of the pancreas.
  • Two or more close relatives or other relatives have had malignant melanoma.
  • Three or more close relatives or other relatives have had malignant melanoma or pancreatic cancer.

An investigation can be done if one or more of the items in the list are correct.

Here you can read more about pancreatic cancer and malignant melanoma.

Prostate cancer can be hereditary

An investigation into hereditary prostate cancer can be done if the following is true:

  • Two or more close relatives or other relatives have had prostate cancer. At least one of the relatives had the disease before the age of 75.

Here you can read more about prostate cancer.

When and how should I contact healthcare?

Contact a cancer genetic clinic if any of the following apply to you:

  • You want an investigation because one or more things that may indicate hereditary cancer are true. 
  • There is an unusual cancer disease in your genetic lineage and you want to know if it can be hereditary.
  • A genetic relative has been investigated and allows you to know more about that investigation.

Cancer genetic receptions can be found in Umeå, Uppsala, Solna, Linköping, Jönköping,  Gothenburg and Lund 

So an investigation goes on

The investigation usually begins with the mapping of your family to see if there is any evidence of hereditary cancer.

Your family is mapped

You need to answer questions that will allow your family to be mapped:

  • How many genetic relatives do you have if you count three generations? How old are they, or how old were they when they died?
  • Who in the family has had cancer?
  • What kind of cancer have they had?
  • How old were the relatives when they got cancer?

The mapping can be done in different ways. You can fill out a form. You can be called or come to the reception to talk to the doctor or nurse who is doing the investigation.

Sometimes more information is needed. Then you or a relative may need to give permission so that the person doing the investigation can read your medical records from other health care facilities. Another relative may give his or her consent if a relative is dead.

The survey helps to assess whether the cancer is hereditary and whether there is an increased risk of getting cancer.

Genetic testing sometimes

The mapping can sometimes indicate that there is a certain gene or genes that can be tested. Then a relative with cancer is usually tested first. You may also test if the relative has the gene change. The test is done with a blood test.

Sometimes there is no gene change that can be tested, even though the mapping indicates that the cancer is hereditary.

You get advice and support

Advice and support are part of the investigation. You can talk about things that are important to you, for example:

  • What does the investigation mean?
  • How can I respond to the result?
  • What are the advantages or disadvantages of doing a genetic test, if possible?
  • What is the risk of me or my relatives getting cancer?
  • What help can I get?

Find out if you have cancer or have had cancer

You who already have cancer can also get an investigation. The investigation can determine what treatment you need, for example, if you have ovarian cancer.

An investigation can also be helpful to other people in your family. The investigation can show that you have a gene change. Then other people in your family can test themselves to find out if they also have an inherited increased risk of cancer.

Sometimes a genetic test can be done without mapping, for example, if you are under 40 and have breast cancer. Then there is already the suspicion of hereditary cancer.

What if I have an inherited risk of cancer?

You who have an inherited increased risk of cancer may be helped to reduce the risk.

Regular checkups with examinations can detect early if you are getting, for example, breast cancer or colon cancer.

An operation can sometimes prevent cancer. For example, you may be offered to have the breasts or ovaries removed if you have a hereditary risk of breast or ovarian cancer.

Be involved and influence your care

You have the right to be involved in your care whenever possible. The healthcare staff should tell you what treatment options are available. They should make sure you understand what the different options mean, what side effects are available and where you can get treatment.

How can I respond to a message about hereditary cancer?

There are many ways to respond to a message about hereditary cancer or the risk of hereditary cancer.

It is common to feel anxious about yourself or someone else in the family getting sick.

Some feel guilty if they have children who may have inherited the gene change. Others feel guilty that they themselves are healthy while someone else in the family has had cancer.

But it can also feel reassuring to get an answer, even if the answer is that you have an inherited increased risk of cancer. Maybe it’s something you suspect and now get confirmed.

It can feel reassuring to know that you can reduce the risk and that you will get help and support.

What if I do not have an inherited risk of cancer?

The survey can show that you have no inherited increased risk of cancer. Then your risk of getting cancer is the same as for everyone else. Ask questions about the mapping if you think something is unclear.

Muhammad Nadeem

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