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Are You at Risk for Hereditary Cancer?

Author: Dr. Judson, MD

A hereditary cancer develops when a gene mutation is passed down from a parent to a child. The cancer itself is not inherited, only the gene that increases the risk of developing it.  The most common hereditary cancers are:

  • Breast Cancer
  • Colorectal Cancer
  • Ovarian Cancer
  • Pancreatic Cancer
  • Stomach Cancer, and
  • Uterine Cancer

If you have a strong family history of cancer, you may want to consider genetic counseling and testing. This typically involves taking a saliva or blood sample to analyze and detect DNA changes that suggest a cell mutation (or change.) When a DNA mutation is found, it may be wise to test other family members. Inheriting a gene mutation does not necessarily mean that a person will develop cancer, but it increases his/her risk of developing cancer.

There are questions you can ask in order to better determine if cancer runs in your family. For each case of cancer, the American Cancer Society recommends gathering the following information:

  • Who is affected? How are you related?
  • What type of cancer is it? Is it rare?
  • How old was your relative(s) when they were diagnosed?
  • Did this person get more than one type of cancer?
  • Did your relative smoke or have other known risk factors?

Knowledge Is Power

Some people want to know if they are at risk for a hereditary cancer, while others are unsure because they don’t know how they will handle the information. But being aware of your risk for cancer does have its benefits:

  • The knowledge helps shape further treatment, such as preventive surgery or medications, which may help reduce your risk for developing cancer
  • It enables you to tailor your cancer screenings accordingly
  • Being aware of your cancer risk can benefit your other family members

If a genetic mutation is found, there are screenings and medical options available to lower your risk of certain cancers. Knowing your cancer risk can not only save your life, but the lives of other family members too. The Steward Center for Women’s Oncology offers hereditary cancer counseling and screening.  Learn more at