World Cancer Day: Can you inherit breast or ovarian cancer?

Published on: 2 February 2022, 21:28 pm IST

One can inherit a gene from their parents that may put them at a risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer later in life.

cancer myths
Come, let's tell you some myths and facts about cancer. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Even if it is cliched, prevention is preferable to cure. Despite the fact that the deadly disease called cancer has claimed millions of lives over the centuries, many people are still unaware of its basics. Currently, breast cancer has surpassed lung cancer to become the world’s most prevalent form of cancer.

Globally, approximately 2.3 million women were diagnosed with the condition in 2020 according to a WHO report. In India, it accounts for about 14% of all cancers that occur in women. Shockingly, it was reported that about 1 in 29 women will develop breast cancer during their lifetime. As terrible as it sounds but, the condition is inherited in about 10% of instances around the world.

The genes, namely BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes are critical in the fight against cancer. But if they are mutated, they can be fatal. One may be at cancer risk if they inherit a version of these genes from their parents. Fortunately, there are now methods to detect these genes before they manifest in your body.

breast implants
Breast cancer can be prevented by doing self checkup at home. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

The American Society of Breast Surgeons recommends that genetic testing be made available to all patients with breast cancer. It can unravel a lot of useful insights which can improve the chances of preventing and promptly treating at-risk individuals.

In some cases, breast cancers cluster in families. These are referred to as hereditary cancers because they are linked to inherited gene mutations, and these tend to appear sooner in women than in non-inherited or sporadic cases.

How does one inherit breast or ovarian cancer?

All cancers are genetic (albeit not all are hereditary) in the sense that they are caused by mutations in certain genes. Each gene has two copies. To disrupt the gene, a mutation in both copies is usually required. It renders the gene non-functional and predisposes the cells bearing the mutation to divide indefinitely. However, certain people may be at a greater risk of getting hereditary cancer if they already have a defective copy of a gene involved. The DNA repair that they inherited from their parents can be responsible.

According to studies, 5 percent to 10 percent of all detected breast cancer cases are passed down through the generations. When a person’s family has a history of breast cancer, they may be more likely to get it themselves. The percentage of risk varies depending on factors like their relationship’s closeness. The number of relatives who have been diagnosed with breast cancer can also play a role.

What are the benefits of genetic testing?

Breast cancer risk can be determined with certainty using genetic testing. When a mutation is discovered, close family members (children, siblings, and parents) may have a risk of up to 50 percent. As a result, they can be examined to detect genetic changes and undergo more frequent screenings to detect and intervene early.

ovarian cancer
There are several risk factors for ovarian cancer. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Early identification increases patients’ timely access to various treatment options, as well as their survival rate and quality of life. In reality, if patients are aware that they are genetically predisposed to breast cancer, they can take preventative medications or have preventive surgery. Genetic testing for breast and ovarian cancer enhances the chances of preventing and treating at-risk persons. It provides patients with a sense of assurance and relief about their future cancer risk. It also aids in making educated treatment decisions.

What are the steps that can be taken post the discovery of a faulty, cancerous gene?

When there is a family history involved, genetic testing gives you an advantage in determining the risk. The risk assessment enables you to be proactive. It allows you to discuss risk-reduction options with your doctor. They can be surgery, cancer-prevention drugs (chemoprevention), or more frequent screenings in the future.

Dr Divya Agarwal Dr Divya Agarwal

MD (Pediatrics), DM (Medical Genetics) and Clinical Advisor at LifeCell Diagnostics

Wellness Store

Indulge in curated wellness products
for healthy living

Shop Now