Learn about gene changes called mutations, how inherited mutations can lead to cancer, what types of cancer may be hereditary and how parents can pass gene mutations to their children.

DNA damage and gene mutationsimage of normal cells becoming cancer cells

Cancers are caused by damage to the DNA in your cells. These changes are called “gene mutations.” Gene mutations can build up in cells in your body over time. Cells with too many mutations may stop working normally, grow out of control and become cancerous. It can take many years for cells to build enough damage to become cancer.

  • Gene mutations that build up in cells are called "acquired" or "somatic" mutations.
  • Somatic mutations are caused by “wear and tear” damage on genes over time.
  • Aging, exposure to hormones, environmental toxins, and certain viruses can cause mutations.


Last updated October 09, 2020