Can risks for cancer be inherited?
Approximately one in two men and one in three women will develop some type of cancer in their lifetime; one in 300 during their childhood. At least one in 10 people who develop cancer have an inherited risk factor. In these cases, a person has a mutation, or small change, in their genetic material. Whether new or inherited from a parent, this mutation increases their chances of developing certain types of cancer.
How do I know if the cancer in my family is hereditary?
Your doctor or genetic counselor can help you determine if your family history suggests that you may have a hereditary risk for cancer. Learn more about hereditary cancer.
In general, the following situations increase the chances that an inherited form of cancer may exist in your family:
- Multiple family members diagnosed with cancer or tumors
- Cancer or tumors in multiple generations
- Multiple cancers or tumors (two or more) diagnosed in one person
- Cancer or tumors in an individual who also has two or more congenital anomalies (something that is unusual or different at birth) such as:
- Birth defects
- Abnormal growth and/or development
- Other major medical issues unrelated to the cancer
- Rare or certain types of cancer or tumors, such as:
- Adrenocortical carcinoma
- Atypical teratoid and malignant rhabdoid tumor
- Cardiac myxoma
- Choroid plexus carcinoma
- Endolymphatic sac tumor
- Gastrointestinal stromal tumor
- Hypodiploid leukemia
- Juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia
- Malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor
- Optic pathway tumor
- Renal cell carcinoma
- Rhabdomyosarcoma, especially if anaplastic or before age 6
- Sonic hedgehog medulloblastoma
- Thyroid cancer, especially medullary
- Vestibular schwannoma
What should I do if I think there is hereditary cancer in my family?
With a genetics consultation through the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders, you can investigate the possibility of hereditary cancer in your family. By talking with a genetic counselor, you will learn how cancer can be inherited and what steps can be taken to prevent and detect cancer as early as possible.
If you are concerned about your family history of cancer or would like more information about genetic counseling, ask your cancer medical care team or primary care provider about making a referral for genetic counseling. You can also contact one of the genetic counselors directly: Kami Wolfe Schneider, MS, CGC at 720-777-2627 or Alexandra Suttman, MS, CGC at 720-777-2265.