If Both Parents Died of Cancer, Will I Get It?

Last Editorial Review: 1/11/2018

Ask the experts

My mother recently died from stomach cancer. I believe that her cancer was called signant ring cell. Also, my father had colon cancer in his 50s, but survived. With both parents having cancer, am I doomed to get it, too? How much does this increase my odds of getting cancer, and at what age should I start being concerned?

Both my parents lived to see their 70s. I'm now 38 and in fair shape and pretty good health. I would appreciate any input or advice that you might have for me.

Doctor's response

The genetics of isolated stomach cancer (cancer of the stomach with no cancers at other sites) has not been extensively studied, but there appears to be no genetic predisposition. (Signet cell cancer of the stomach is an unusual type of cancer that may or may not be related to common stomach cancer. The name comes from the appearance that the malignant cells have under the microscope. They look like signet rings.)

The risk for colon cancer among the general population is about 6%. (Colon cancer is a common type of cancer.) The risk of developing colon cancer if one first degree (parent, child or sibling) relative has colon cancer at an older age is approximately twice the general population or 12%. The recommendations regarding screening for colon cancer at this risk level are not absolute, but many experts recommend intensified screening.

Routine screening for colon cancer would include standard screening with fecal occult blood testing yearly and sigmoidoscopy every 3 to 5 years beginning at age 40. Many experts also would recommend colonoscopy at age 40-50 with recommendations regarding further colonoscopies based on the findings at this first colonoscopy. (For example, if no polyps or cancers are found, colonoscopy might not be repeated.)

There are a few uncommon cancer syndromes in which cancers of several different organs are associated in families; however, cancer of the stomach and colon are not associated in such syndromes.


Health Solutions From Our Sponsors