Cancer Risk Factors - Family History

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Is there a history of cancer in your family? What are your concerns?

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Family history of cancer

Most cancers develop because of changes (mutations) in genes. A normal cell may become a cancer cell after a series of gene changes occur. Tobacco use, certain viruses, or other factors in a person's lifestyle or environment can cause such changes in certain types of cells.

Some gene changes that increase the risk of cancer are passed from parent to child. These changes are present at birth in all cells of the body.

It is uncommon for cancer to run in a family. However, certain types of cancer do occur more often in some families than in the rest of the population. For example, melanoma and cancers of the breast, ovary, prostate, and colon sometimes run in families. Several cases of the same cancer type in a family may be linked to inherited gene changes, which may increase the chance of developing cancers. However, environmental factors may also be involved. Most of the time, multiple cases of cancer in a family are just a matter of chance.

If you think you may have a pattern of a certain type of cancer in your family, you may want to talk to your doctor. Your doctor may suggest ways to try to reduce your risk of cancer. Your doctor also may suggest exams that can detect cancer early.

You may want to ask your doctor about genetic testing. These tests can check for certain inherited gene changes that increase the chance of developing cancer. But inheriting a gene change does not mean that you will definitely develop cancer. It means that you have an increased chance of developing the disease.

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See what others are saying

Comment from: mustbefate, 45-54 Male (Patient) Published: December 30

My grandfather died of prostate cancer at the age of 53. My father is now 87 with great health. My father shared with me that his dad had a lot of lower back pain for over a year and then was diagnosed with prostate cancer and died within the same year. I'm 54 and I have an annual physical and my prostate is checked when I go in. But I have been plagued with a very stiff lower back and the pain is about a 7, 1 being no pain 10 being extremely painful, 1-10. I'm a very active person, 6'3, 215 pounds.

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