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Cancer Genetics

Familial Cancer

05/13/2003

Question:

In the past six months I have had three of my children diagnosed with cancer. My twin daughters who are twenty were diagnosed separately (one in Ohio and one in New York) within one week of each other with cervical cancer. My oldest son (twenty-four) was within the past three weeks diagnosed with testicular cancer. He had emergency surgery - removal of his testicle. Later this week he will have surgery to remove his abdominal lymph nodes. Considering that all of these children (two different biological fathers) have had their reproductive capacity threatened; are these cancers somehow related? I had cervical cancer within the past ten years and was treated with a hysterectomy - with no recurrence.

Answer:

Cervical cancer is not hereditary in the usual sense, in that an individual inherits a predisposition to develop cervical cancer. And in fact, almost all cervical cancer is associated with infection from a virus called the Human Papilloma Virus, or HPV. Infection with certain strains of this virus cause cervical cells to begin dividing more than they should, and can eventually lead to cervical cancer if the growing cells are not removed. Infection with HPV is very common, and women who have regular Pap tests have them for this very reason, for early detection and treatment of pre-cancerous areas. There is some evidence that genetics may play a role in this, by making an individual more susceptible to infection by HPV, and therefore at greater risk of cervical cancer. As for the testicular cancer, there does not appear to be any relation to cervical cancer. It is one of those cancers that is found predominantly in younger men (below the age of 30), and the risk decreases with age. Without other family history of cancer, such as relatives with colon, breast, ovarian or other cancers, it is unlikely that your son`s cancer is caused by an inherited factor. However, you have my condolences. It is often difficult for us to watch our children go through the experience of cancer.

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Response by:

Duane D Culler, PhD, MS Duane D Culler, PhD, MS
Clinical Instructor of Genetics
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University