• Elizabeth Kearney

All Cancer Is Genetic

Hereditary cancer testing is probably the most recognized of health-related DNA testing. Here are some basics to know before testing.

Is cancer genetic?

All cancer is genetic. Cancer is common, and it results from changes in a number of genes that control how cells grow and divide. When these special genes are changed, or mutated, they sometimes lose control of cell division. Mutations in other important genes start to build up. A tumor results.

What is hereditary cancer?

Some people are born with a non-working copy of one of those special genes.  The person doesn’t already have cancer because changes in other genes must still occur before a tumor grows. However, the person has a higher chance for cancer than other people.  Therefore, people who inherit non-working copies of these special genes often develop cancer at a younger age.

Is there testing for hereditary cancer?

Yes, but choosing the right test depends on the cancer in the family. For example, BRCA 1 and 2  are genes that tend to be associated with breast, ovarian, prostate, pancreatic, and certain types of skin cancer. But these same cancers can be seen for other reasons, including other cancer genes, too.

Some labs offer testing for a large number of cancer genes, so you don’t have to know which one you are looking for. Still, these tests are not 100% comprehensive of all possible inherited causes of cancer.

If a hereditary cancer test is negative, does that mean the person won’t develop cancer?

No.  People can still develop cancer the way others do – by mutations occurring in their genes over their lifetimes. Therefore, everyone should follow the standard screening suggestions for cancer, even if they have no findings on genetic testing.

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