Hereditary Cancer Syndromes
Friday, November 30, 2012
When it comes to hereditary cancer syndromes, it pays to know your family’s medical history.
Nancie Petrucelli, M.S., C.G.C., senior cancer genetic counselor at Karmanos and coordinator of the Karmanos Cancer Genetic Counseling Service, says this information provides important clues about your potential cancer risk.
“It’s important to document your family’s medical history,” she says. “What has happened in the past can oftentimes predict the medical future for you and your relatives.”
Hereditary cancer syndromes are caused by an alteration or mutation in genes we inherit from our parents. They account for only 5 to 10 percent of all cancer cases. But in families that have passed on the mutation, the risk of cancer is increased.
Specific gene mutations can cause a number of syndromes. Lynch Syndrome places a person at an increased risk for colorectal, uterine and other cancers. A person with this syndrome has up to an 82 percent chance of developing colorectal cancer and up to a 71 percent chance of developing uterine cancer, compared to 5 percent and 1.5 percent of the general population, respectively.
Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Syndrome places women at an 87 percent risk of developing breast cancer and up to a 44 percent risk of developing ovarian cancer. In spite of its name, this syndrome also places men at increased risk of breast, prostate and pancreatic cancer, as well as melanoma.
Genetic testing can help determine a person’s risk of developing a hereditary cancer syndrome. The first step is to compile a thorough family medical history. Then, a blood test can confirm if a person has a specific gene mutation.
“Knowing your cancer risk allows you to monitor your health more closely,” Petrucelli says. “In many cases, people who learn they have a mutated gene associated with a hereditary cancer syndrome opt for preventative surgery before the disease has a chance to develop. Others may take medications to reduce their cancer risk or undergo heightened screening to detect the cancer at an early stage. It’s important to know your family’s medical history and share that with your doctor to make good medical choices.”
Should you meet with a genetics counselor?
The following red flags may indicate you should consult with a genetics counselor:
• You have several relatives with cancer.
• You have a personal or family history of rare or unusual cancer, such as male breast cancer of medullary thyroid cancer.
• You or a family member has multiple primary cancers of the same or related types.
• You have a personal or family history of cancer under the age of 50.
• You have five or more colonic polyps.
• You have two or more biologically related first, second or third-degree relatives on the same side of the family with the same or related cancers.