RARE CANCERS CAN RUN IN FAMILIES

“It is believed that only 5% to 10% of cancers are genetic in origin, and many of them are rare cancers. But age is also a key factor: The younger family members are when diagnosed with any cancer, the more likely there’s a genetic connection. A woman I know with a family history of breast and ovarian cancer was diagnosed with breast cancer in her early 40s.

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I urged her to undergo genetic testing, and sure enough she had the BRCA gene mutation that increases risk of breast, ovarian, prostate, and pancreatic cancer as well as some other rare cancers. Many of her relatives chose to get tested too, and we were able to more aggressively monitor their risk. One refused the test because she just didn’t want to know, and she later developed ovarian cancer and died—so heartbreaking.

The BRCA 1 and 2 mutations are the ones we know the most about, but there are many others that cause some types of colon, thyroid, uterine, and kidney cancers, to name a few. If you’re worried, getting tested can be an extremely powerful, lifesaving decision.” —Susan Domchek, M.D., director of the Basser Center for BRCA at the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania and a scientific adviser to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

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