How do cancers run in families?

20 February 2005



My grandfather, father, aunt, all my siblings and I have had cancer. Are we an example of cancer being hereditary? The cancers weren't the same. Two were in the breast, one had it in the kidneys, one in the bladder and two in the colon.


(Kat) If cancer is hereditary, it tends to be the same type of cancer or a group of similar cancers. (Andrew) Breast cancer in families is a known phenomenon. If the same cancer turns up in close relatives, there are some tests that can be done to find out who is most at risk. I think in your case, the cancers don't fall into any pattern that I can recognise as being inherited. The difficulty with sorting all this out is that people who share the same environment sometimes share exposure to the same carcinogens. (Fran) Cancer is such a common disease now that about 1 in 3 people will experience cancer at some time in their lifetime. Overall, the odds experienced by your family are not as extreme as they may seem.


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