This brief and easy-to-use hereditary cancer quiz can help you determine whether you may be a candidate to get tested for several of the most common hereditary cancer syndromes.
When taking the quiz, don’t forget to include BOTH your mother’s and father’s side of the family when answering questions. You will be assessed for your hereditary cancer risk of the following cancers:
- Breast cancer
- Colon Cancer
- Pancreatic Cancer
- Ovarian Cancer
- Uterine Cancer
Take the Quiz. You can print the results and bring them with you to your consultation with your healthcare professional.
Want to learn more? Read on or watch the video below.
Many families have more than one member who has developed cancer. This can be because of shared risk factors such as obesity or smoking, but may also be because these family members share a genetic risk.
Cancer is described in three main ways: as sporadic, familial, or hereditary. Each type has its own risks and appears in different ways.
- Sporadic cancer is the type that occurs by chance and is the most common. People who develop sporadic cancer usually do not have family members who have had the same type of cancer.
- Familial cancer is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental risk factors. While people with this type of cancer may have several relatives with the same type of cancer, there is not a clear pattern of inheritance.
- Hereditary cancer occurs when a gene that normally helps to prevent cancer is altered (or mutated). People with hereditary cancers are more likely to have relatives with the same type or a related type of cancer. In addition, they often develop cancer at an earlier than average age, and may also develop more than one cancer in their lifetime.
If you have a family history of cancer, or if you belong to certain at-risk populations, you may carry an altered gene in your own genetic makeup.
Most cancers occur by chance and can be the result of lifestyle choices such as smoking, or environmental conditions such as exposure to ultraviolet rays from sunlight or chemicals in the home or workplace. However, in some families, cancer occurs more often than can be blamed on chance.
If there is an inherited gene mutation in the family, cancer risks are much higher than in the general population. There are several clues that may show whether an inherited factor is causing cancer in a family:
- Multiple cases of an uncommon type of cancer such as pancreatic cancer
- Cancer that occurs at an earlier age than in the main population, such as breast or colon cancer in a 30-year-old
- More than one type of cancer occurring in one person, such as a woman experiencing both breast and ovarian cancers
- Cancer that occurs in both of a pair of organs—both eyes, kidneys, or breasts, for example
- Childhood cancer that appears in siblings, such as sarcoma in both a brother and sister
Research has identified many types of cancer that can be inherited
Genetic testing for cancer
If you have reason to suspect that you or someone you know may be at risk for hereditary cancer, genetic testing may be a helpful option. Testing may not be is not necessary for many people everyone, but you may be a candidate if you:
- Have a family history of cancer
- Belong to an at-risk population
- Have a personal history of cancer
Genes and heredity
The human body is made up of trillions of cells that provide structure for the body, process the nutrients we receive from food, create energy, and perform many other functions. All the cells in the body contain the same genetic material, DNA.
Genes are made up of DNA, and strands of DNA make up the chromosomes that are found in the nucleus of cells. Each person has 46 chromosomes—23 from the mother, and 23 from the father. The Human Genome Project estimates that humans have about 25,000 genes, and has mapped the location of each gene on each chromosome, enabling researchers to identify genes that are associated with different functions.
The genes we inherit from our parents help to determine who we are physically—from the color of our eyes and hair to our susceptibility to certain diseases, including cancer.
Source: National Center Institute
How cancer cells get their start
Normal cells divide and duplicate themselves in a very controlled way, but sometimes an error occurs, and the DNA is not copied correctly. Most of the time this error is corrected, or the cell cannot function and is destroyed. Yet sometimes the tiny change in the DNA is not repaired, and the error is passed on when the cell divides to make new cells.
If the change is a mutation that interferes with a critical function such as DNA repair or the regulation of cell growth, then the mutation can make the cells more cancer-like. If enough mutations occur within a cell over time, it can lead to cancer.
Gene mutations and cancer
A gene mutation is a permanent change in the DNA that makes up a particular gene. For cancer, two kinds of gene mutations are important.
- Random (acquired): the mistakes that occur in DNA by chance and get repeated. These mistakes are more likely to happen as people get older. Being exposed to ultraviolet radiation from the sun, or to certain chemicals or environmental elements, can also make random genetic changes more likely.
- Inherited: the genetic changes that a person is born with usually passed on by the person’s father or mother or both.
Most cancers develop from random mutations, but up to 10% come from inherited genetic changes passed on by a parent. Certain inherited mutations can make it much more likely that a person carrying the mutation will get cancer—and will get cancer earlier.
If you do carry an inherited mutation that has been linked to cancer, knowing your risk can help you and your doctor make better, more informed decisions about your health, possibly before cancer has a chance to develop. It can also help you protect your children and other family members.
Your family history
Sometimes a family will appear to have hereditary cancer when what they really share is a common living or working environment that exposes them to things that can cause mutations. This is why family history is an important part of your personal risk assessment.
Most cancers occur by chance. However, in some families, cancer occurs more often than can be expected to happen by chance.
Determining which of these families has cancer-related to an inherited gene mutation is important, as the cancer risks for family members will be much higher than in the general population. These subgroups, or populations, may be organized in several ways:
- Following along family lines
- Multiple occurrences of the same type of cancer in your family
- Development of multiple cancers in an individual
- Previously identified mutations of certain cancer genes