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Cancer Genetics

Risk of Getting Cancer

09/28/2006

Question:

My father had cancer of the bowel, his brother had cancer. On my mother`s side her father had cancer and her sister had breast cancer. I am 33 years old and have rheumatoid arthritis and taking Arthotec, Plaquenil, Methotrexate, Prednisone, and Enbrel. What is the risk of me getting cancer? How much of a greater risk of cancer do I have because of my RA? When and how often should I get tested for cancer?

Answer:

Although you are not specific about all the cancers in your extended relatives, it is reasonable to say that your chance of developing cancer is somehwat increased because your father had bowel cancer.  However, the age at which he developed cancer is also important.

In general, having a parent with cancer such as colon cancer increases your chance of developing cancer in the same organ about 2 times.  For instance, having a father with colon cancer means that your chance of developing colon cancer is now about 8-10%, compared to about 5% for someone whose father (and mother) did not have colon cancer.  The cancer risk associated with your mother's side of the family is lower because of the greater genetic distance between you and the relative with cancer.

I am not aware of an increased risk for developing cancer associated with having rheumatoid arthritis.  For a more accurate estimation of your cancer risk and to discuss appropriate screening, you should talk with your primary care physician and, if appropriate, consider scheduling an appointment with a cancer genteics specialist.

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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