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Hereditary Cancer & Genetics

Learn about genes and cancer, signs of hereditary cancer, genetic counseling, types of genetic tests and what results mean for you and your family.

What is cancer?

All cancers are caused by changes to materials in our bodies called “genes.” These are units of information in every cell of our bodies. Genes tell our bodies which proteins to make based on the type of cell and its needs. Some genes tell our bodies how to fix damage accumulated over time from normal aging, environmental toxins, sun exposure, dietary factors, hormones, and other influences. These damage-controlling genes can repair cells or tell cells when to stop growing and die if there is too much damage to repair.

Cancer is a disease that occurs when cells in our body are damaged and cannot be repaired. These cells can begin to grow and divide abnormally and escape our body’s normal control processes. These abnormal cells are cancer cells. 

Cancer cells can grow together as masses called tumors which replace normal cells in tissue or organs. Cancer cells can interfere with the normal functioning of the organ where they arose, and they can also spread to surrounding tissue or through the blood and lymph tissue to other organs. When cancer cells spread beyond their original site to other organs it is called "metastasis."

 Cancer usually develops slowly, often involving multiple steps (damage to multiple genes), over a period of several years. Cancer can usually be treated. Depending on what step or stage the cancer is found, it often can be cured.  

Updated 8/31/16  








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