Genetics and Hereditary Cancers

Family History

Looking at family history helps identify risk factors, or red flags, for patients who might be at increased risk for hereditary cancer. UT Southwestern Medical Center’s genetics experts work with individuals and families to help determine their risk.

Possible risk factors in a family history include:

  • Cancer that was diagnosed at an unusually young age (younger than age 50)
  • Multiple, different types of cancer that have occurred independently in the same person (not one cancer that spreads to different organs)
  • Cancer that has developed in both organs in a set of paired organs (such as both breasts or both kidneys)
  • Multiple close blood relatives on the same side of the family that have the same type of cancer or associated cancers (for example, a mother, daughter, and sisters with breast cancer)
  • Multiple generations affected with cancer exhibiting an autosomal dominant inheritance pattern
  • Rare cancers such as male breast cancer or paragangliomas
  • A constellation of cancers in the family associated with a known hereditary cancer syndrome (for example, breast and ovarian cancers, or colon and endometrial cancers)
  • The presence of birth defects or other noncancerous findings, such as certain benign skin growths or skeletal abnormalities, that are known to be associated with inherited cancer syndromes
  • Racial or ethnic heritage in a group that is known to have an increased chance of having a certain hereditary cancer syndrome and having one or more of the above features as well (for example, having breast cancer and being of Ashkenazi Jewish descent)
  • The presence of more than 20 cumulative colon polyps (particularly adenomatous or mixed histologies)

Patients should talk to family members about these risk factors before their genetic counseling  appointment.