Hereditary Cancer Risk: Understanding and Prevention

How family history and genetics affect your cancer risk
Understanding hereditary cancer risk: what you need to know

Hereditary cancer risk means an increased likelihood of developing certain cancers due to genetic mutations that are passed on within a family over generations. These mutations can be present in a person's DNA from birth and can increase their lifetime risk of developing cancer. In some cases, an inherited risk factor may 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: By knowing your risk, you can take steps to reduce your risk of developing cancer. For example, a high risk of breast cancer due to the BRCA mutation may lead to choosing more frequent breast cancer screening, medication to reduce the risk, or considering preventive surgery.
  2. Early detection: Some hereditary cancer syndromes are linked to specific cancers 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 develop into cancer.
  3. Family planning: Understanding your hereditary cancer risk can be important when making family planning decisions. If you have a genetic mutation that increases your cancer risk, you may consider having children through assisted reproductive technologies that screen for the mutation or 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, knowing your hereditary cancer risk can lead to taking proactive measures to prevent or detect cancer early, make informed decisions about family planning, and feel safe.


  1. American Cancer Society, Family Cancer Syndromes.
  2. Regional Cancer Centers in Sweden
  3. UConn Health. Hereditary Cancer

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