Georgia's Online Cancer Information Center

Genetics & Cancer

News sources around the world have increasingly been reporting on medical advances in genetics. The study of DNA continues to bring us closer to achieving the goal of personalized medicine. Healthcare providers are now able to assess risk and determine the best treatments for many diseases based on genetic information. While not every disease or cancer diagnosis is due to genetics, knowing the role of genes can improve the healthcare experience as well as the treatment outcome.

Does cancer run in your family?

Cancer is common. Often, multiple family members within a single family will be affected by cancer and the diagnoses are usually random. There are specific types of cancers that run in families; this can be due to common environmental conditions (sunlight, smoking) or genetic mutations (changes) passed down in the family.

Only 5-10% of all cancer is hereditary

Cancer develops randomly about 90-95% of the time. The remaining 5-10% of cancer cases are hereditary, meaning that they are linked to a genetic change passed down within a family. The most common hereditary cancers are breast, colon, melanoma pancreatic, prostate, and ovarian cancer, but there can be genetic links to other cancers. Being aware of your personal and family cancer history as well as knowing the red flags of hereditary cancer are important parts of taking control of your health. Red flags are when:

  • Several rare cancers are within your family (such as kidney cancer, ovarian cancer, adrenocortical cancer, thyroid cancer, or male breast cancer)
  • You or your family members are diagnosed with cancer younger than 50 years old
  • There is more than one cancer diagnosis in a single person
  • Someone in the family has bilateral cancer (such as bilateral breast cancer, eye cancer, kidney cancer, etc.)
  • There are multiple childhood cancers within a family
  • There is a known mutation in a cancer susceptibility gene in the family

Appropriate genetic testing can inform health care planning, surveillance and management in order to minimize individual risk of developing cancer. If you are concerned that cancer may run in your family, genetic counseling can be useful to determine if genetic testing is right for you.

Who provides Genetic Counselling?

Specialized health care professionals (licensed genetic counselors and Nurses or physicians) are trained to educate, support, and facilitate genetic testing for families at genetic risk for disease. Genetics professionals work with families to identify members who are at risk of genetic predisposition to disease and order genetic testing when appropriate. In a genetic counseling session, a thorough personal and family history will be collected and assessed in order to determine appropriate genetic testing and medical management recommendations for you and your family.

Find a Genetic Counselor in Your Area

For information about your genetic counseling appointment, refer to Making Sense of Your Genes: Guide to Genetic Counseling published by the Genetic Alliance.

We cannot inherit cancer – we can inherit an increased risk

There are several different genes that can contribute to the development of cancer. When one of these genes isn’t working properly, or is mutated, cells are more likely to grow out of control; this can lead to cancer. These abnormalities, or mutations, can be passed down through generations within a family, causing certain types of cancers to be diagnosed in multiple family members.

Inheriting a genetic mutation in a gene linked to cancer does not guarantee that you will develop cancer. It does, however, substantially increase your risk for certain cancers. To manage this risk, additional screening and/or risk reduction strategies may be suggested.

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Other Resources

Contact us with questions

Feel free to contact Georgia CORE's genetics nurse, Alice Kerber: Akerber@georgiacore.org, 404-584-1178

Last Updated: 8/24/2020 12:00:00 AM

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Advancing Cancer Care through Partnerships and Innovation

Georgia CORE is a public-private partnership that creates collaboration among the state’s cancer organizations and institutions to connect more Georgians to quality, personalized cancer care. We welcome you to this one-of-a-kind online information center for all things related to cancer and survivorship care in Georgia.