Can Cancer Be Inherited?

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By Dr. Sajjan RajpurohitOncology

While it is commonly known that Cancer is not a hereditary disease in the true sense, doctors often mention that having a parent with a history of cancer can put you at increased risks of developing the disease yourself.

Defined as an abnormal and uncontrolled division of cells in the body, cancer, in all its forms, is the result of genetic mutation. An abnormality in the genetic data that determines cell division and cell growth is what can end up causing the uncontrolled cell growth that is known as cancer. While the gene mutations that cause cancer may or may not be hereditary, they often take a while to accumulate to the point of causing cancer.

Hereditary Cancer and Sporadic Cancer
Hereditary cancer is caused by a predisposition to gene mutations that are passed on by the parents to the child while sporadic cancer is caused by gene mutations that are a result of environmental factors, lifestyle choices, etc. While there are plenty of cases of sporadic cancer being diagnosed in young people, people with hereditary cancer are the ones who develop the disease at a younger age. Hereditary cancer in parents can also influence gene mutations related to a specific type of cancer. This is why doctors often recommend cancer screenings and preventative measures for people with a parental history of hereditary cancer.

There are several genes that are known to cause cancer and people at risk can be specifically screened for them in order to be able to take preventative measures. These genes are:

  1. BRCA1 and BRCA2: Abbreviations for the Breast Cancer 1 and Breast Cancer 2 genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2 are genes that put people at risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer and pancreatic cancer.
  2. MLH1, MSH2, MSH6, PMS2, or EPCAM: These are genes that put people at risk of Lynch syndrome.
  3. PTEN: This gene put people at risk of developing diseases that are classified under PTEN hamartoma tumor syndrome.
  4. TP53: This gene is associated with the development of Li-Fraumeni syndrome.
  5. STK11: This gene is associated with the development of Peutz-Jeghers syndrome, which put people at an increased risk of developing non-cancerous growths.
  6. CDH1: This gene influences the development of Hereditary diffuse gastric cancer syndrome which put people at an increased risk of stomach cancer and breast cancer.

While carrying these genes are known to affect your predisposition towards developing cancer, it should be noted that 90% of cancer cases are sporadic and a result of numerous factors including lifestyle choices. Like many a disease, cancer can be prevented by maintaining a healthy lifestyle that involves regular physical activity and a doctor recommended diet.