Thinking about cancer or dealing with cancer risk can be scary or overwhelming, but we believe that receiving information and resources is comforting, empowering, and lifesaving.
All cancers are caused by changes to materials in our bodies called “genes.” When genes themselves are damaged, they can develop changes called “mutations.” When mutations occur in the damage-controlling genes, cells can grow out of control and cause cancer. Read more about causes of cancer here.
It takes more than one gene mutation for cancer to occur. For most people who develop cancer, the cancer-causing gene mutations happen over the course of a lifetime, leading to cancer later in life. Some people are born with a gene mutation that they inherited from their mother or father. This damaged gene puts them at higher risk for cancer than most people. When cancer occurs because of an inherited gene mutation, it is referred to as "hereditary cancer."
Cancers that occur because of an inherited mutation are called hereditary cancers. Cancers that are not due to an inherited gene change are called “sporadic cancer.” Sporadic cancer and hereditary cancer differ in several ways, which are outlined here.
There may be signs that point to an inherited mutation within a family. Sometimes the signs are as simple as a single family member being diagnosed with a certain type of cancer. Other signs require looking more closely at many family members across several generations to pick up certain patterns of cancer. Different gene mutations can cause different types of cancer. Read more about the signs of hereditary breast, ovarian, and related cancers (also known as HBOC) here. Read more about signs of other types of hereditary cancer here.