Understanding hereditary cancer risk: what you need to know

Understanding hereditary cancer risk: what you need to know

Hereditary cancer risk refers to an increased likelihood of developing certain types of cancer due to genetic mutations that are passed down through generations within a family. These mutations can be present in a person’s DNA at birth and can increase their risk of developing cancer over their lifetime. In some cases, having a hereditary risk factor can mean a higher likelihood of developing cancer at a younger age or developing multiple cancers over time.

It’s important to note that not all cancers are hereditary, and having a genetic mutation doesn’t necessarily mean that a person will develop cancer. However, understanding your hereditary cancer risk can be valuable in a number of ways:

  1. Prevention: Knowing your risk can help you take steps to reduce your chances of developing cancer. For example, if you know you have a higher risk of breast cancer due to a BRCA mutation, you may choose to have more frequent breast cancer screenings, take medications to reduce your risk, or consider preventative surgery.
  2. Early detection: Some hereditary cancer syndromes are associated with specific types of cancer that can be detected early through regular screening. For example, people with Lynch syndrome may need more frequent colonoscopies to detect and remove polyps before they become cancerous.
  3. Family planning: Understanding your risk of hereditary cancer can be important when making decisions about family planning. If you have a genetic mutation that increases your risk of cancer, you may choose to have children through assisted reproductive technologies that screen for the mutation or consider other options such as adoption.
  4. Peace of mind: For some people, knowing their hereditary cancer risk can provide a sense of relief and help them feel more in control of their health.

In summary, understanding your hereditary cancer risk can help you take proactive steps to prevent or detect cancer early, make informed decisions about family planning, and give you peace of mind.


  1. National Cancer Institute. Inherited Cancer Syndromes. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/genetics/inherited-cancer-syndromes
  2. Regional Cancer Centres in Sweden, https://cancercentrum.se/samverkan/regional-cancer-centres/
  3. American Cancer Society. Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Syndrome. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/risk-and-prevention/hereditary-breast-and-ovarian-cancer-syndrome.html
  4. American Society of Clinical Oncology. Genetic Testing for Hereditary Cancer Syndromes. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/hereditary-cancer-syndromes/genetic-testing-hereditary-cancer-syndromes