What does hereditary cancer syndrome mean?

Hereditary cancer syndrome is a type of inherited disorder that leads to a higher-than-normal risk of certain types of cancer. Hereditary cancer syndromes (people often use the term ‘hereditary cancer’) are caused by variants (changes) in certain genes passed from parents to children. In hereditary cancer syndromes, certain patterns of cancer may be seen within families. These patterns include having several close family members such as a mother, daughter, and sister with the same type of cancer, developing cancer at an early age, or having two or more types of cancer develop in the same person.

People often use the term ‘hereditary cancer’, but it is inherited gene mutations that lead to cancer and not cancer itself that is inherited. About 10 per cent of cancers are thought to be caused by hereditary variants.