Genes and Cancer

We all get genes; little pieces of instruction for our bodies, from our parents—half from mom, and half from dad.

Scientists have learned that some genes can directly affect our risk for breast, ovarian, colon, and uterine cancer. That’s why these cancers tend to run in families. It’s not all bad news, though—understanding your genetic risk can empower you to take charge of your health.

If you learn that you are at higher risk for breast, ovarian, colon or uterine cancer you and your doctor can develop a plan to lower your risk.

Understanding Your Risk for Hereditary Cancer

Your family and personal medical history holds the key to understanding your risk for breast, ovarian, colon, and uterine cancer.  See the risk factors below, or use our Hereditary Cancer Quiz to better understand your cancer risks. If your history does suggest an increased risk, you might consider making an appointment with one of our providers to determine whether you are a candidate for genetic testing.

Family History

Find out which relatives—on both your mother’s and father’s sides—have had cancer, which types, and how old they were when diagnosed. It’s important to gather as much information as possible.   Additionally, any of the following events in your family history could be a sign of hereditary cancer:

A personal/family history of:

1. Breast cancer diagnosed at age 45 or younger
2. Ovarian cancer at any age
3. Two primary breast cancers
4. Male breast cancer
5. Triple Negative Breast Cancer
6. Pancreatic cancer with a breast or ovarian cancer
7. Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry with an HBOC-associated cancer
8. Two or more relatives with breast cancer, one under age 50
9. Three or more relatives with breast cancer at any age
10. A previously identified BRCA/LYNCH mutation in the family
11. Colon cancer diagnosed at age 50 or younger
12. Uterine cancer diagnosed at age 50 or younger
13. Two or more (at any age) of the following cancers on the same side of the family: colon, uterine (endometrial), ovarian, stomach, small bowel, brain, kidney/urinary tract, ureter or renal pelvis (not cervical).

Medical Management

If genetic testing confirms the presence of a mutation, the following medical management options may help reduce cancer risk and may either delay the onset of cancer, detect it at an earlier, more treatable stage or may even prevent it:

  • Increased surveillance
  • Risk-reducing medications
  • Prophylactic surgery