According to researchers, more than 8% of children with cancer have unsuspected genetic mutations that could run in their families.
In addition to putting the children at risk of future cancer, these mutations also mean that their parents and siblings have an unusually high risk.
The findings may not only lead to new approaches to testing children and their families for cancer risk, but it could also lead to more efficient treatments.
Researchers tested more than 1,100 children treated for cancer and found 8.5% of them had cancer causing mutations. The mutations were in germline cells, which means they are likely to have been inherited.
40% of the children had no known family history of cancer. Some of the mutations were also found in BRCA genes. Mutations in BRCA genes are known to increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancer in adult. However mutations in BRCA genes are not linked to childhood cancers.
According to the CEO of St. Jude, almost one in ten children carry a mutation that increases their risk of cancer.
Researchers assert that children with identified mutations should undergo special screening. Their family member need to be tested in order to find out if they have the mutation and if they do, they should also undergo additional screening. Unfortunately insurance companies usually initially refuse to pay for this type of genetic testing.
Knowing the amount of risk a child face will affect the management of the child. These children re already at risk of more cancers later on, as well as heart disease, and other conditions from the chemotherapy and radiation they have undergone.
Having mutations in cancer-causing genes means they will need to be watched extra closely for the remainder of their lives.
St. Jude is now offering testing to the parents and siblings of any children that have any of the cancer-causing mutations.