Children's Hospital Colorado
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Cancer Predisposition Clinic

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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
      • Hemangioblastoma
      • Hepatoblastoma
      • Hypodiploid leukemia
      • Juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia
      • Malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor
      • Optic pathway tumor
      • Paraganglioma
      • Pheochromocytoma
      • Renal cell carcinoma
      • Retinoblastoma
      • 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.

Contact us:

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.