Is Cancer Genetic?
What causes Cancer? Certain changes in the genes called mutations, alters the cell growth and function. We know that genes code for proteins and once the gene coding is altered the protein formed is altered too.
Now the next question that would come to your mind is, that if mutations are changes in the gene arrangement, then can these be inherited? Or is cancer genetic? Essentially, it is the genes that are inherited from one generation to another, so is it not the case with mutations and cancer too? The answer is, NO. Not all mutations that cause cancer are passed on from one generation to another.
Cancers that are inherited from one generation to another are caused by inherited genetic mutations. These mutations play a major role in 5-10% of cancers. A member in a family diagnosed with cancer predisposes the other members towards developing cancer, however, it does not confirm the diagnosis of cancer in other members. Research has outlined certain factors that can serve as a clue for the cancer to be related to an inherited gene mutation, such as,
- Similar type of cancer being detected in the family
- Cancer affecting more than one specific organ (both breasts, kidneys, etc.)
- Occurrence of a rare or uncommon cancer at an early age
The valid explanation for the inheritance of mutations is believed to be common lifestyle habits, eating habits and surrounding environment that the family members could have in common through the generations.
When asking is cancer genetic, consider certain gene mutations, such as BRCA mutations, can be inherited and passed on to the next generation, however, alone inheritance of a mutation does not confirm the onset or progression of cancer. The mutation may reside in the genetic makeup of the individual as a silent one and never express or vice versa.
Ironically, considering the uncertainty of being diagnosed with cancer, it becomes important for an individual to go for genomic profiling and getting screened for potential cancer causing genes. This together can help in planning a better management plan for the patient and also prepare the individual for diagnosis. Therefore, of course cancer as a disease cannot be simply inherited however the mutation causing that cancer can for sure be inherited and may or may not cause cancer later.