Hereditary Cancer & Genetics

Cancer is a disease of abnormal gene function. Genes are parts of a person’s DNA that govern hereditary traits and the likelihood of developing certain diseases, including cancer.

Genes serve two key roles in cancer. Some contribute to developing cancer, while others stop the development or growth of cancer. 
Even healthy genes can change (or mutate) throughout your life. Exposure to large doses of radiation, for example, can cause genes to change and allow cancer to develop. Most cancers are not inherited, but sporadically arise from mutated genes. This explains why the risk of cancer increases as you age. 

Families and Cancer

Studies have shown that certain cancers occur in excess in some families. A woman whose mother, sister or daughter has had breast cancer is roughly twice as likely to develop the disease as those whose close relatives have not had breast cancer. Some have an inherited gene mutation linked to higher rates of breast or ovarian cancer. Certain childhood cancers occur more often in some families, as well.

Another example of hereditary cancer happens when an individual inherits a mutation in the p53 gene. When normal, a p53 gene doesn’t let abnormal cells grow. Those who have a p53 abnormality are at a higher risk for leukemia, breast cancer, sarcoma, and tumors of the central nervous system and the adrenal gland.

Several other cancerous or precancerous conditions show hereditary patterns, including:

  • familial adenomatous polyposis of the colon
  • colorectal cancer
  • thyroid cancer
  • prostate cancer
  • neurofibromatosis (tumors of the nerves)
  • cancers of the endocrine system
  • melanoma

Genetic Counseling and Testing

Genetic counseling and testing may be suggested for those with a strong family history of cancer, to help in planning future health care.

The Cancer Genetics Program at Beaumont

The Beaumont Cancer Genetics Program was established in 2004 and includes a highly skilled cancer genetics staff. The program’s goal is to provide patients with the most up-to-date guidelines for cancer screening and treatment.

Staff provide detailed family history evaluations, risk assessment, genetic education, genetic testing, counseling services, and information about cancer risk reduction and prevention strategies. These strategies have been shown to lead to early detection of cancer, better treatment and improved outcomes.

The multidisciplinary team at the Beaumont Cancer Genetics Program includes an oncologist, certified genetic counselors, supportive care nurses, and data entry personnel for our cancer genetics registry. The team works closely with surgeons, medical oncologists, radiologists, primary care physicians, gynecologists, gastroenterologists and Imaging Services.