Knowing your family’s cancer history can protect you from cancer. Many people may not think about whether there is hereditary cancer in the family, but if several people in your family have contracted colon cancer, uterine cancer (but not cervical cancer), breast cancer or ovarian cancer, you should consider whether there may be hereditary underlying factors.
A common misconception is that hereditary gynecological cancer and breast cancer only affect women. It’s wrong. When there is an inherited basis for breast or ovarian cancer, so-called BRCA syndrome, there is in some cases an increased risk of prostate cancer in men, and pancreatic cancer in both men and women. If female relatives have uterine or colon cancer, the cause may be Lynch syndrome, which puts both women and men at increased risk for colon cancer. In addition, both male and female relatives can be carriers.
Three things that may indicate hereditary cancer:
• Several close relatives have or have had the same form of cancer.
• Someone or some of the relatives have been diagnosed at a younger age than usual for the cancer.
• Different cancers that are linked to each other are found in the same genus, such as breast and ovarian cancer, or colon and uterine cancer.
If you have an increased hereditary cancer risk, you can get help with preventive measures that mean that you and your relatives do not need to be affected. These can be tests, frequent control programs or in some cases preventive measures such as surgery.
If you suspect that you have hereditary cancer in the family, contact an oncogenetic clinic located at the hospitals in Stockholm, Umeå, Lund, Uppsala, Gothenburg, Jönköping and Linköping.
We want genetic testing to be available to everyone – as soon as there is a suspicion of hereditary cancer. Unfortunately, access to testing is not equal as some regions have very long waiting times for predictive testing.
It is important that carriers of hereditary predispositions are identified. Healthcare must actively screen to find carriers and offer information on preventive measures. Being able to identify family members who carry these gene mutations makes it possible to prevent disease and save lives. Support structures are also important to help patients pass on information when there is an increased hereditary risk within families.
With modern technology, in connection with in vitro fertilization, one can choose to return only embryos that do not carry the gene mutation. This can be an important technology for families who want to have children but are worried about passing on the facilities.
We want more to be invested in continued research on the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of individuals with hereditary cancer systems. By making genetic testing available to more people, actively screening for predispositions and working with preventive measures, and not least strengthening research on new methods, we can stop hereditary cancers and save lives!
Barbro Sjölander, Chairman of the Network against Gynecological Cancer
This is an opinion piece and the content is the writer’s or writers’ own views.