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Inherited Cancer Risk

While you don’t inherit cancer, you can inherit a higher risk for developing it.

If you have a genetic risk of cancer, it means you have specific genetic mutation that increases your risk for cancer. However, it doesn’t mean you will develop cancer.

You received a copy of every gene from both of your parents, and can receive a mutated or altered gene from either of them. You have a hereditary risk of cancer if certain gene mutations or changes are passed from your parents to you. Only 5 to 10 percent of cancers are from inherited gene mutations.

You may have inherited a higher risk of cancer if you or a family member has:

  • Cancer diagnosed at a young
  • Multiple types of cancer occur in one individual
  • Cancer develops in paired organs (both breasts, kidneys, ovaries)
  • Multiple family members with the same type of cancer
  • Rare cancers (like male breast cancer)

There are more than 50 different genes known to cause heredity cancer syndromes. Two of the more common ones are Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Syndrome (HBOC) and Lynch Syndrome. HBOC is caused by mutations in the BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 genes and increases the risk for breast, ovarian, and other cancers. Lynch syndrome is caused by mutations in the mis-match repair genes and increases the risk for colon, endometrial, and other cancers.

Increasingly, many patients with an inherited genetic abnormality are taking steps such as closer medical surveillance, drug/hormone therapy for prevention, or surgery to prevent the onset of cancer in the future. Identifying families with hereditary risks can help determine the risk of cancer for each individual family member, and it allows each person to take measures to help prevent the onset of cancer as well.

BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 GENES

Women with a BRCA-1 or BRCA-2 mutation have a 55 to 85 percent of developing breast cancer if appropriate preventative strategies are not implemented. Individuals with BRCA mutations also have increased risk for ovarian cancer, male breast cancer, prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer, and melanoma.

Mutations in the BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 genes are rare. A person is more likely to have a BRCA mutation if they have a significant personal or family history of BRCA-related cancers. If you have one or more of the following risk factors, we recommend consulting your physician and considering genetic testing and evaluation.

Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Syndrome Risk Factors

  • Breast cancer at age 45 or younger
  • Ovarian cancer at any age
  • Two primary breast cancers, with one diagnosed at age 50 or younger
  • Triple negative breast cancer at age 60 or younger
  • Male breast cancer at any age
  • Two or more relatives with breast cancer with one diagnosed at age 50 or younger
  • Three or more relatives with breast, ovarian, pancreatic, and/or aggressive prostate cancer
  • Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry with breast, ovarian, or pancreatic cancer
  • A relative with a mutation in BRCA-1 or BRCA-2

Lynch Syndrome Risk Factors

Lynch syndrome is also rare and is more likely to occur in individuals with certain risk factors. Lynch syndrome cancers include: colon, endometrial (uterine cancer), ovarian cancer, stomach cancer, ureter/renal pelvis, biliary tract, small bowel, pancreas, brain or sebaceous adenomas. If you have one or more of the following risk factors, we recommend consulting your physician and considering genetic testing and evaluation for Lynch syndrome.

  • Colon or endometrial cancer before age 50
  • A person with two or more of the above Lynch cancers
  • Two or more relatives with a Lynch cancer, with one before age 50
  • Three or more relatives with a Lynch cancer
  • A known family mutation in a Lynch syndrome gene

The American Cancer Society’s Genetic Testing for Cancer: What You Need to Know site provides additional information.