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.
Between 10% and 20% of many common cancers are considered "hereditary." Hereditary cancers are caused by gene mutations that people are born with; passed down to them from either their mother or their father.
Laboratory tests can tell if a person carries an inherited mutation in a gene linked to cancer.
There are many different types of genetic tests for inherited mutations. Tests may differ in the following ways:
The two genes most commonly responsible for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer are named BRCA1 and BRCA2. Mutations in these genes can also increase the risk for other cancers, including male breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer, and melanoma.
The five genes most commonly responsible for hereditary colorectal and endometrial cancer are also known as Lynch Syndrome genes. Mutations in these genes can also increase the risk for ovarian, stomach, pancreatic and other cancers. Mutations in two of the Lynch Syndrome genes have also been linked to increased risk for breast cancer.
Other gene mutations have been discovered that increase the risk for these cancers including PALB2, CHEK2, ATM, BRIP1 and others. You can read more about these genes here.
All the different factors above can make the process of ordering genetic testing complicated. And genetic test results can affect people's decisions about medical care. For people who have already been diagnosed with cancer, genetic test results may affect their treatment options. Genetic test results also affect the risk for a new diagnosis of cancer. People who test positive for a genetic mutation have medical options for lowering their cancer risk or detecting cancer early when it is most treatable. For these reasons, it is important to speak with a genetics expert if you are interested in genetic testing or if you think that cancer may run in your family.