Genes carry the biological information we inherit from our parents. They affect the way our bodies grow, work and look. If someone has one or two relatives with cancer they may be worried that there is a cancer gene present in their family. Inherited cancers are actually quite rare – only about 5% of all cancers are caused by an inherited faulty gene.
In this section we provide some basic information about inherited cancers and about genetic testing.
What is Meant by a ‘Family History’ of Cancer?
A family history of cancer may be significant if you can answer ‘yes’ to any of the following questions:
- Do you have a close relative who has had two different types of cancer, not one cancer that has spread? Your close relatives are defined here as your parents, children, brothers and sisters.
- Do you have two or more close relatives on the same side of your family (your mother’s side or your father’s side) with the same type of cancer or with particular types of cancer that are known to be sometimes caused by a faulty gene. These cancers include breast and ovarian cancer, and bowel and womb (uterus) cancer.
- Have any of your close relatives been under 45yrs when diagnosed with cancer?
If you have any concerns about your family history of cancer it is important to talk to your GP or a member of your healthcare team. They will be able to help you decide whether you should be referred to a specialist genetics counsellor.
The Cancer Genetics Service for Wales (CGSW) is for anyone in Wales who has had a number of family members with cancer and is worried about an increased risk of developing cancer.
You can generally only be referred to the CGSW in one of three ways:
- By your GP
- By another healthcare professional, such as a breast care nurse or practice nurse
- By yourself, if a member of your family is already being seen by CGSW
If you are referred, CGSW will try to confirm the cancers in your family. You will be invited to attend a clinic where you will have the opportunity to talk to a specialist Genetics Counsellor. The Counsellor will assess your risk of developing cancer and may suggest additional screening and/or genetic testing.
If you are interested in learning more about genetic testing, CGSW, in partnership with Tenovus and Cardiff University, has brought together an excellent online ‘StoryBank’. This is simply an online collection of stories about cancer genetics. It was developed in direct response to feedback from patients at the Cancer Genetics Service for Wales and consists of digital stories from patients covering topics such as living with the risk of cancer, compiling a family tree, telling a family member about a cancer diagnosis and making decisions about surgery and screening. To access the story bank please follow the link below:
The Macmillan Cancer Support website has a ‘self assessment tool’ called OPERA (Online Personal Education and Risk Assessment) for women who may be worried about a family history of breast or ovarian cancer.
For further information about inherited cancers and genetic testing you may like to follow the links below: