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Genetic Cancer Risk

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What is your genetic cancer risk? Or to put this question another way, do your genes pre-dispose you to a specific type of cancer? Yes, genetics can play a role in predisposing a person to cancer. Certain genetic mutations or variations can increase the risk of developing cancer.

Having said that, I am going to explain all the issues that can reduce your risk of a specific type of cancer because of your genetic make-up.

Reasons against genetic cancer risk:

  1. Incomplete Penetrance: Some individuals may inherit genetic mutations associated with an increased risk of cancer, but these mutations may not always lead to the development of cancer. Incomplete penetrance means that not everyone with a specific genetic mutation will express the associated trait or condition.
  2. Modifier Genes: Other genes, known as modifier genes, can influence the impact of cancer-associated mutations. These modifier genes can either enhance or reduce the risk of cancer development. The interplay between different genes is complex, and the presence of certain modifiers can influence the expression of cancer-related genes.
  3. Epigenetic Factors: Epigenetic modifications, which involve changes in gene expression without altering the underlying DNA sequence, play a crucial role in cancer development. Environmental factors, lifestyle choices, and even psychological stress can affect epigenetic modifications, potentially mitigating or exacerbating the impact of genetic predisposition.
  4. Lifestyle and Environmental Factors: While genetics plays a significant role, lifestyle and environmental factors also contribute to cancer risk. Adopting a healthy lifestyle, including maintaining a balanced diet, regular physical activity, avoiding tobacco, limiting alcohol consumption, and protecting oneself from environmental carcinogens, can help reduce the overall risk of cancer.
  5. Medical Surveillance and Early Detection: Regular medical check-ups and screenings can facilitate the early detection of cancer or precancerous conditions. Detecting cancer at an early stage often improves the chances of successful treatment and can significantly impact outcomes.
  6. Advancements in Medical Treatment: Advances in medical research and treatment options, including targeted therapies and immunotherapies, have improved the outlook for individuals with a genetic predisposition to cancer. Early intervention and personalized treatment plans can sometimes prevent or effectively manage cancer.
  7. Chance and Random Mutations: Cancer development involves a combination of genetic and environmental factors, but there is also an element of chance. Random mutations can occur during cell division, and not all mutations result in cancer. Some mutations may be harmless or may even be repaired by the body’s natural repair mechanisms.

Reasons in favor of Genetic Cancer Risk

There are two main types of genetic factors that contribute to cancer risk: inherited genetic mutations and acquired genetic mutations.

  1. Inherited Genetic Mutations: Some individuals inherit genetic mutations from their parents that significantly increase their risk of developing certain types of cancer. These mutations are present in the germline cells (sperm and egg cells) and can be passed on to the next generation. Examples of hereditary cancer syndromes include:
    • BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations: These mutations are associated with an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancers.
    • Lynch syndrome: This is linked to an increased risk of colorectal and other cancers.
    • Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP): This syndrome increases the risk of colorectal cancer.
  2. Acquired Genetic Mutations: Most cancers result from acquired mutations that occur over a person’s lifetime. These mutations can be caused by various factors, including exposure to carcinogens (cancer-causing substances) and the natural aging process. While these mutations are not inherited, they can still contribute to an individual’s overall cancer risk.

If a specific type of cancer runs in your family I understand how difficult it can be. My

  • great-grandfather,
  • grandfather,
  • uncle and
  • father

man hand holding his nutritional supplemets, healthy lifestyle background.

all either died of prostate cancer or died with prostate cancer. My solution? Evidence-based non-conventional prostate cancer therapies such as nutrition, supplementation, exercise, etc. all shown to reduce my risk of prostate cancer. If you do a little studying, it is remarkable how much research you can find.

I reduce my risk of prostate cancer daily. Will it be enough to prevent me from PCa? We’ll see.

Does a specific cancer run in your family? Have you been genetically tested for a type of cancer? Let me know.


David Emerson

  • Cancer Survivor
  • Cancer Coach
  • Director PeopleBeatingCancer

9 common questions about genetic testing for cancer

“Do all types of cancers have a genetic component?

Most cancers are considered sporadic, meaning the cancer happens randomly or has environmental influences, such as smoking and lung cancer. About 25% of cancers are considered familial. This is when multiple members of a family are affected by cancer. These family members have some shared genetic factors in combination with shared environmental factors that lead to the development of these cancers.

About 10% of cancers are considered hereditary or have a single specific genetic component that can be tested and increase a person’s risk for developing cancer…

What types of genes are examined during genetic testing?

You may have an increased risk for some health conditions, including some types of cancer, based on your genes. A genetic test looks for specific harmful gene changes, called mutations or pathogenic variants, that can cause you to develop a genetic condition. Gene changes are like spelling errors within your body’s instruction manual.

Most genetic tests look for changes in group of genes called a panel. However, testing may look for changes in a single gene when there is a known genetic mutation in your family. The most common genes typical thought of related to cancer risk are BRCA1 and BRAC2. These genes are associated with breast and ovarian cancer. It’s known that changes in other genes can increase risk for these cancers, as well.

There also are gene panels that assess risk for other cancers, such as colorectal, pancreatic, prostate, liver, uterine and endometrial cancers….

Am I guaranteed to get cancer if I have a known gene?

No. Inheriting a harmful gene change means that you have an increased risk for cancer, but it does not guarantee that you will develop a cancer in your lifetime.

If testing shows that you have an increased risk for cancer, you may need to be screened earlier or more often…

What criteria do I need to meet to have genetic testing completed?

Your health care team may recommend genetic testing based on guidelines established by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN). These guidelines use factors such as your personal cancer history, family cancer history, ancestry or the presence of abnormal cells to determine if you qualify for genetic testing…

Can genetic testing help during cancer treatment?

If you are battling cancer, genetic testing can help your care team make recommendations for treatments and surgical procedures. For example, some cancers associated with genetic mutations respond better to certain types of chemotherapy treatments. Similarly, genetic testing can help you determine between a lumpectomy or a mastectomy when making surgical decisions about breast cancer. It also can affect the management of cancer risk over time…

How can I prepare for a genetic testing consultation?

Gathering a detailed family health history is the most important thing to prepare for a genetic counseling appointment. Try to gather information about relatives, including types of cancer diagnosed, age of diagnosis, current age or age at death. Also find out if any relatives have previously had genetic testing completed…

Am I only able to get cancer if I have the BRCA gene or one of these other genes?

A common misconception is that you have one of these genes or you don’t. Everyone has the BRCA genes and these other genes associated with cancer risk. The role these genes play in the body is to prevent cancer from occurring.

It’s when a harmful change occurs in one of these genes that causes it not to work like it should. This leads to the increased risk for cancer to develop.

People without these harmful changes can still develop cancer, but the risk is not as high as someone who has a hereditary predisposition…

Am I more likely to inherit something from a parent of the same sex as me? Or the parent that I most resemble?

No. Every person has two copies of every gene — one copy inherited from each parent. If a parent has a harmful genetic change in one copy of a gene, it is random which copy they will pass on to children.

Every child has a 50-50 chance of inheriting the typical copy or the changed copy, regardless of you or your parent’s biological sex, or whether you more closely resemble one side of the family…

There is breast cancer on my dad’s side of the family, I’m not at risk because my dad can’t pass that on, right?

People often think that a heritable risk for some cancers, such as breast and ovarian cancer, can’t be passed on from males. This is not true.

All people, regardless of biological sex, can carry a heritable risk factor for any type of cancer and can pass it on to any of their children.

While you can’t change your genes, you can control some aspects of your environment, such as diet and physical activity level, as well as alcohol and tobacco use…”


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