Genetics and Cancer: Can Cancer be Hereditary?
Cancer is often called a genetic disease since it is caused due to seemingly random gene mutations in our cells. These mutations can radically alter the DNA of a normal cell and cause them to turn malignant.
Mutations of such nature are usually somatic- simply meaning that they are caused due to processes like natural ageing or cell damage. There however exists another group of acquired mutations called Hereditary Mutations, that can be inherited from a parent and passed down from generation to generation.
Here’s what you need to know about Hereditary cancers and how they can contribute to cancer risk.
Can You Inherit Cancer ?
Gene mutations are believed to only play a 5 - 10% role in cancer development. Your genes usually undergo mutations due to DNA damage caused by catalysts like cigarette smoke, harsh UV sun rays and interactions with certain chemical compounds.
The bad news, however, is that Cancer can be caused due to more than 50 types of hereditary gene mutations, Most of which are caused due to mutations in genes responsible for cell growth and the repair of DNA strands. Such people tend to develop cancers in their early years and can also be genetically predisposed to specific strains of the disease like in the cases of hereditary colorectal cancers or Lynch syndrome (non-polyposis) or those born with mutated BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes that can increase one's breast cancer risk.
Can You Test Your Genes for Cancer?
You can get yourself tested for certain genes that have been discovered to have a higher probability of turning into cancerous tumours. It is, however, important to note that being born with a hereditary gene mutation does not mean that you have a 100% chance of getting cancer in your lifetime. It should instead be used as an indicator to understand that you stand a higher than usual probability of getting this disease in comparison to someone who does not carry the same genetic marker.
You can get a genetic consultation from a trusted physician if you have any of the following:
- A family history of cancer
- Suffered from a disease caused by an inherited genetic mutation OR
- Have a family member who has suffered from a disease caused by an inherited genetic mutation
The test will involve a few samples of your DNA from your hair, blood and other tissues. These samples are then sent to a genetic testing team that will analyse your DNA to find these specific markers. Your counsellor will also ask you a few questions about your family's medical history to find any patterns.
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