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What is Hereditary Cancer?

What is Hereditary Cancer?

Cancer is, unfortunately, an exceptionally common disease. Most of us have known someone in our families or friendship circles that have experienced it. Cancer occurs when cells mutate and grow out of control, and this happens when the genes change (mutate) inside of our cells. Mutation then affects how the cell functions. For example, a mutation might stop a gene from working. Or it might keep a gene turned on all the time even when it’s not needed.

Gene mutations can be either hereditary or acquired:

hereditary gene mutation is present from birth, when an embryo is formed from cells that contain faulty and cancerous genes.

An acquired (somatic) mutation is acquired later in life. This is by chance or through an environmental factor, such as smoking or obesity.

Most cancers are caused by acquired mutations – hereditary cancers are exceptionally rare, making up only 5 in every 100 cancers (around 5%). They occur when a hereditary cancer gene is passed on to a child. Two examples of this are the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes; these both increase the risk of developing breast, ovarian, pancreatic and prostate cancer.

Hereditary cancers are generally not significantly different from acquired cancers. It is the way the cancers occur in the family that indicates whether they may be hereditary. Signs suggesting hereditary cancer include:

  • Two or more relatives with the same type of cancer, on the same side of  the family,
  • Several generations affected,
  • Early ages of cancer diagnosis,
  • Individuals with more than one primary cancer,
  • The occurrence in one family of cancers which are known to be genetically related (such as breast and ovarian cancer, or colon and uterine cancer),
  • The presence of physical signs which are known to be associated with hereditary cancer (such as moles and melanoma, or polyps and colon cancer), and
  • Certain rare types of cancer.


Types of hereditary cancers
Examples of hereditary cancer syndromes are breast and ovarian cancer syndrome, Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Cowden syndrome, and Lynch syndrome. Also called family cancer syndrome and inherited cancer syndrome. There are, of course, many different types of hereditary cancers, but these are among the most common.

In the past, types of cancer have been categorized by where they’re based in the body and the type of cells they affect. But whole genome sequencing adds a new layer of understanding. According to Professor Serena Nik-Zainal, a lead researcher at Cambridge University Hospital:

With whole genome sequencing we can see the patterns in the field of [an individual’s] cancers – like dinosaur footprints – of what is going wrong with their cancers. And everyone’s cancer is different. To know we can personalize each person’s cancer report means we are a step closer to personalizing treatment for them.”

By undertaking DNA testing, we’re able to detect the ‘mutational signatures’ that may be key to cancers developing. This is the power of whole genome sequencing – and precisely the facilities and methods of research that Dante Labs can offer.  


When and how to get tested
By using the Dante Labs Genome Sequencing Test, we can provide you with an additional Hereditary Cancer Report that is tailored to your genetics. This report analyzes for all common and rare variants associated with Hereditary Cancers, instead of a limited set of genes like old genetic target panels.

The Hereditary Cancer Report provides an analysis of over 2130 conditions:

  • Fanconi Anemia
  • Multiple Myelomas
  • Cowden Syndrome
  • Lung Adenocarcinoma
  • Juvenile Polyposis Syndrome
  • Carcinoma/Adenocarcinoma of Pancreas
  • Familial cancer of the breast
  • Lynch Syndrome
  • Hepatocellular Carcinoma
  • Li-Fraumeni Syndrome
  • and many more conditions

If you’re looking to learn more about your risk of hereditary cancer, or you simply want some peace of mind, be sure to check out our Dante Whole Genome Sequencing Test.

Click the link to purchase yours today:

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