Although cancer is common, only 5-10% of it is hereditary, meaning an individual has inherited an increased risk for cancer from one of their parents. This inherited risk for cancer is caused by a small change (called a mutation) in a gene, which can be passed from one generation to the next in a family. When someone inherits this type of gene mutation from a parent, they have an increased risk to get a certain type (or types) of cancer.
Some cancers that can be hereditary are:
- Breast cancer
- Colon cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Uterine cancer
- Melanoma (a type of skin cancer)
- Pancreatic cancer
Family members share genes and may, therefore, share cancer gene mutations. Relatives with the same cancer gene mutation usually share an increased risk to get cancer.
Sometimes, a single gene mutation that increases the risk for cancer can increase the risk for more than one type of cancer. An example is a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. Mutations in these genes are associated with an increased risk for breast, ovarian, prostate and other cancers.
Certain patterns of cancer can be signs of hereditary cancer in a family. Genetic experts are medical professionals trained to look for these signs and help you learn about your cancer risks. This may include talking about genetic testing and developing your best action plan to address your cancer risks.