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Cancer Genetics

Family History of Cancer

03/02/2007

Question:

My dad recently passed away due to Lung Cancer. I was wondering what the chances are that I, being his daughter, have of developing some sort of cancer. His lung cancer was due to smoking, but him mom also passed away from a different type of cancer.

Answer:

Generally, it has been observed that an individual with a close family member (parent, brother or sister) with cancer will have a somewhat higher chance of developing cancer than the population. However, in the case of your father, it is likely that his cancer developed because of his smoking.  If you do not smoke, and have not smoked, your chance of developing lung cancer would be about the same as the average man or woman (on the order of 5-8%).  Exposure to second hand smoke may increase your risk somewhat.

You also report that your grandmother died of cancer, although you do not state what kind.  In general, you may have a slightly increased risk for this kind of cancer. although it is difficult to give you an exact estimate.  You should discuss this information with your physician, and s/he should be able to give a better idea of what chance of developing cancer will be.  Another good resource that is available to anyone, is the website for the National Cancer Institute.  You will find  information about possible risk factors for wide variety of cancers, as well as a thorough description of family history-based risks.

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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