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Hereditary Cancer, red flags, and how it impacts screening!

Updated: 6 days ago

Michelle Springer, MS, CGC - CGA-IGC Communications Committee

Most cancer is not inherited in families and occurs sporadically, as a result of random changes in our cells over time.  However, approximately 10% of cancer is hereditary and is due to a genetic mutation that has been passed down in the family, increasing the risk for certain cancers to develop. 

Some common signs of hereditary cancer include:

1.     Earlier age of onset of cancer

  • Breast cancer before age 50

  • Colorectal cancer before age 50

2.     Rare cancers

  • Ovarian cancer

  • Pancreatic cancer

  • Male breast cancer

3.     Multiple individuals/generations with the same or related cancer (i.e., breast and


4.     Multiple primary cancers in an individual

Genetic testing plays an important role in helping individuals determine if their cancer or the cancer in their family could be due to an inherited predisposition. 

As many hereditary cancer conditions may increase the risk for more than one type of cancer, having this information is extremely powerful as it changes screening recommendations to allow for earlier detection and prevention.  Importantly, this allows individuals to focus on what they can do differently to help minimize those risks.  Additionally, since cancer mutations are passed down in families, genetic testing serves as a tool to help identify other family members who may also be at risk.

If you are concerned that your cancer or the cancer in your family could be hereditary, ask your provider for a referral to a genetic counselor who can further discuss genetic testing with you.  The National Society of Genetic Counselors also has a wonderful resource to help you find a genetic counselor near you: 

Our sincere thanks to both Michelle Springer and Mark A Hicks for their collaboration around the creation of these images used in this blog post and social media.

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