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Inherited Risk and Genetic Testing

Cancer predisposition means some people have an increased chance of developing cancer because of a genetic condition. Sometimes individuals are the first one in the family to have the genetic condition, while other times they inherited it from one or both parents.

Currently, it is believed that about 8-10 percent of childhood cancer cases are caused by an underlying genetic condition.  And just because someone has a genetic condition does not mean he or she will develop cancer.

If the cancer is caused by an underlying genetic condition, that’s important because it means:

  • Patients might need more frequent monitoring such as diagnostic imaging (radiology) tests and blood work so any cancers that may develop can be found early when they are easier to treat and more readily cured. Patients may also be candidates for risk-reducing surgeries.
  • Patients should put a particular emphasis on adopting healthy habits with cancer prevention in mind, such as not smoking and using sunscreen.
  • Other family members may have the inherited gene mutation and have the option to be tested.
  • Having the information can help to determine whether people in the family might also be at risk.

Who should have genetic testing?

Genetic testing could be considered for

  • A child who has a cancer that might be associated with a specific genetic condition.
  • A child who does not have cancer but, based on physical or clinical features, may have a genetic condition that increases the risk of developing it.
  • Children and teens who have close family members with a genetic condition linked to certain cancers.
Japanese maple in autumn.

Just because someone has a genetic condition does not mean he or she will develop cancer.

How can I find out about my family’s risk?

First, gather your family’s medical history, especially for your parents, children, sisters, brothers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and first cousins, particularly anyone who has had cancer.

  • Find out what type of cancer the family member had and how old the person was when it was diagnosed.
  • If a family member had cancer in more than one body part, try to find out if doctors thought it was one type of cancer that had spread or a different type of cancer that happened separately.
  • If the cancer happened in the eyes, breasts, lungs, kidneys or adrenal glands, try to find out if only one or both of these organs was affected.
  • If any family members have had genetic testing, ask for copies of their testing results.
  • Also, try to get copies of family members’ cancer medical records.

If you learn that there is a history of cancer in your family, discuss this information with your physician and perhaps seek the guidance of a genetic counselor or other genetics professional.

Reviewed: June 2018