Genealogists who have put together their medical family tree have a clear idea of what diseases, conditions, or disorders, run in their family. For example, a genealogist might learn that many of their relatives and ancestors had cancer. There are certain things that people should know about a family history of cancer.
You Might Not Get Cancer
Just because family members had cancer doesn’t necessarily mean that you will get cancer, too. There are a lot of variables to consider. Start by identifying which relatives and ancestors had cancer. Are you closely related to them, or distantly related to them? In some cases, this could make a difference.
Which part of the family tree do the people who have had cancer belong to? You might discover that a certain type of cancer runs on one side of the family, but not the other.
What age did your relatives develop cancer? Some cancers, like childhood leukemia, affect children. You either had that type of cancer when you were a child – or you did not. Consider the types of cancers that relatives developed after they became an adult, or when they were elderly.
Genetics Sometimes Play a Role
There are some genes that indicate that a person has a higher risk of getting certain types of cancer. For example, the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are associated with a higher risk of breast cancer (in women and men) and cervical cancer (in women). If these genes run in your family, it would be a good idea to speak with a doctor about your risk of developing cancer. The doctor can explain what your options are.
Other cancers are not connected to a gene. For example, it is known that people who smoke cigarettes can develop lung cancer, and that those who chew tobacco can develop cancers in their mouth and throat. If you come from a family of smokers, but you don’t smoke or use tobacco products, your risk of developing the cancer that runs in the family might be significantly lower than it was for your relatives.
Talk to a Geneticist
It is a really good idea to speak with a geneticist, or genetic counselor, if you think you might have the “bad gene” that runs in your family. Genetic counselors are specialists who will know more about genetics, and how genes relate to cancer, than a doctor who is a family practitioner will.
The American Cancer Society says that somewhere between 5 percent and 10 percent of all cancers result directly from inherited “bad genes” (mutations). That means many types of cancer do not result from a mutated gene. A geneticist can help you determine what is in your genes, can identify specific significant genes, and can explain everything to you.
Related Articles at FamilyTree.com:< Return To Blog