Genes are the instruction manual that tells our cells how to produce certain proteins and build different structures in our cells and in our body. All cancers are caused by harmful changes in a person’s genes. These changes are known as mutations or “variants”. These mutations can cause cells to become abnormal and overgrow leading to cancer.
Most mutations occur by chance and others are thought to be caused by lifestyle, environmental factors, and/or infections such as the HPV viruses.
However, some cancers are due to gene mutations that are passed down through our family (from parent to child) and lead to what is called hereditary cancer. Hereditary cancers tend to affect multiple people in a family with the same type of cancer or other cancers linked to that specific gene mutation. Family members may develop more than one type of cancer and it can occur at a younger than average age. Two well known genetic mutations are the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 gene mutations that lead to an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
Discuss genetic cancer screening with your provider if you have a strong family history of cancer or take the hereditary cancer assesment and follow up with your provider if you qualify for genetic cancer screening.