COURIER L 12 IFE, OCT. 9-15, 2020
Such instances are rare, but an elevated risk for certain types of cancer can be passed
down from generation to generation.
Few, if any, families have not been
affected by cancer. No individual
or family is immune to cancer, but
some families may be more at risk of developing
certain types of cancer than
In many instances, cancers that
run in families can be linked to
behaviors that families share.
For example, families that
smoke tobacco may be more
vulnerable to cancer than
those that don’t, as the smoke
from tobacco is known to contain
dozens of carcinogens.
Cancer can affect multiple
generations, even in families
in which only one person
smokes, as exposure to secondhand
smoke also increases
But poor behaviors or the
effects of those behaviors are not
the only cancer risk factors that can be
passed down from generation to generation.
According to the American Cancer
Society, between five and 10 percent of all
cancers result directly from gene mutations
inherited from a parent. When cancers
within a family are strongly linked
to such mutations, this is known as family
Cancer is not necessarily caused by
a family cancer syndrome, even if gene
mutations are inherited. But the following
factors may make it more likely that
cancers in a family are caused by a family
• Many cases of the same type of cancer,
especially if the cancer is considered
uncommon or rare.
• Cancers that occur at an young age
within a family compared to the median
age such cancers are typically diagnosed
among the general population.
• More than one type of cancer in a
• Cancers that occur in both of a
pair of organs, such as in both kidneys,
both breasts, or both eyes.
• More than one childhood
cancer in siblings.
• Cancer that occurs in
a sex that is not usually affected
by that type of cancer,
such as a man being
diagnosed with breast cancer.
Before discussing the
potential of a family cancer
syndrome with their physicians,
men and women can
survey their family histories
with the disease. Adults
can make a list of the people in their
families who have been diagnosed
with cancer, noting their relationship
to each individual and which side
of the family each person is on. List
the type of cancers each person was
diagnosed with, placing an asterisk
or note next to types that are considered
rare or unusual. In addition, list
the age of diagnosis for each family
member and whether or not they developed
more than one type of cancer.
This may be difficult to determine,
but try to learn if each relative diagnosed
with cancer made any lifestyle
choices that might have contributed
to their diagnosis. Such choices include
smoking, alcohol consumption,
diet, and activity level.
Family cancer syndromes are rare,
but understanding them can help families
make the right lifestyle choices. Find
more information about family cancer
syndromes at www.cancer.org.
KRISTIN LANGAN, NP
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