All cancer is caused by genetic mutations. A mix of lifestyle and environmental factors are responsible for many harmful changes to DNA causing cells to grow out of control.
Inheriting a gene from a parent plays a role in 10 to 15% of cases. Although researchers are looking into even more genetic links, the rest is really chance.
There are couple steps to take in order to better understand your risk.
First, talk to your parents about their parents. Strong family history is currently the most reliable predictor of risk. A genetic counselor can help you decide whether or not to be tested.
If you decide to get gene-tested, do not expect it to be a crystal ball for every type of cancer. The doctors would order a test that looks for typical mutations in a few genes, mainly linked to breast, ovarian and gastrointestinal cancer. However, there is currently a movement to make testing more widely available with affordable online kits.
Genes are not destiny.
Some inherited mutations such as BRCA1 and BRCA2 can raise a person’s breast cancer risk to as much as 65% and ovarian cancer risk up to 39%. Conversely, other genetic mutations carry a moderate risk of 20 to 40%. Although any increase in risk is scary, it is far from inevitable. Other factors will affect whether a person ultimately develops cancer, like the position of the gene mutation, the influence or other genes and lifestyle factors.
Different risk profiles present different choices. Some women with BRCA mutations have options, based on age and genetic risk.
Your genetic test could help others. Doctors may find an atypical gene variation, but not sure of what it means. Registries allow people who’ve been tested to contribute their genetic data so research can provide better risk estimates in the future.
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