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Cancer Genetics

Concerned About Cancer Inheritance

06/11/2009

Question:

My Grandmother had colon cancer at 75 passed away. My Mother had very early colon cancer at 67 which was 13 years ago no reoccurrence. My Father had prostate cancer which spread to the bladder at 57, he beat it but developed non hodgkins lymphoma at 79 and passed. My half sister (father`s daughter) different mother developed kidney cancer at 57 same age as father. She is okay two years later. I am 40. I had a colonscopy at 36 which was fine no polyps. I also had a abdominal MRI and EGD which were both okay except for some gerd and gastritis. I had a cystocopy 2 years ago which was normal. What else can I do? Do these cancer appear to be genetic or just age related disease? My father was a smoker and liked his drink. Mother was/is not a smoker. Father`s mother lived to 88, and my father`s brother is still alive at 86.

Answer:

Cancer is actually a very common condition.  One in 3 people will develop cancer over their lifetime.  Hereditary forms of cancer do exist, but the cancers in your family are not likely to be hereditary.  Hereditary cancer syndromes are usually characterized by clustering of similar types of cancers in relatives, and typically the age of onset is young (which is defined as under the age of 50 for our purposes).  The colon cancers in your mother and grandmother occured at fairly typical ages, and although having 2 relatives with colon cancer may increase your risk over the general population, this is not likely hereditary. 

You should have regualr colonoscopies, but probably don't require screening until the age of 50.  Most likely, you should have colonoscopy every 3-5 years, unless there are polyps present which would necessitate altering that plan.  The prostate cancer and kidney cancer do not seem to be related to hereditary risk.  Other than that, follow the general population screening guidelines as per the American Cancer Society.

Related Resources:

American Cancer Society Screening Guidelines

For more information:

Go to the Cancer Genetics health topic, where you can:

Response by:

Doreen M Agnese, MD Doreen M Agnese, MD
Clinical Associate Professor of Surgery
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University