What is the risk of developing cancer through genetic inheritance?

“Cancer” is the name given to a series of related diseases in which an uncontrolled process is observed in the division of cells somewhere in the body.

Of course, this clinical definition does not do justice to the pain and suffering that these pathologies generate in modern society.

Cancer goes way beyond a conglomerate of terminology, as we all know someone who has suffered from it, and we certainly had a significant risk of facing it at some point in our lives. Sadly, we are facing one of the leading causes of death in the world, as respiratory tract cancers rank eighth in terms of deaths globally, while cancer generally ranks second among countries. of deceased.

As dark and unpleasant as it may sound, facing the enemy and getting to know him is the first step in being able to finish him off. Therefore, on this occasion, we explore the risk of developing cancer by genetic inheritance, Among other problems related to this group of diseases so difficult to treat. Let’s do this.

    Risk of developing cancer by genetic inheritance: a family problem?

    It is difficult to understand the extent of cancer in society if we do not expose ourselves to certain data and figures. The National Cancer Institute (NIH) gives us the following information:

    • Each year, 439 cases of cancer are diagnosed per 100,000 men and women. The mortality of this group of pathologies is 163 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants per year.
    • The most common cancers are breast, lung, prostate and colon, among others.
    • In the United States alone, approximately 2 million new cases are diagnosed each year.

    It gets worse if we view these numbers as something cumulative, not isolated. Yes, almost 500 cases of cancer are diagnosed every 100,000 people each year, that doesn’t sound like a lot. The key is that the probabilities are annualThat is to say cumulative during the life of the individual.

    Thus, it is estimated that an American man has an 11% chance of developing colon cancer throughout his life (absolute risk), not counting the probabilities of the other variants. The scariest number of all is this: Almost 40% of the human population will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their life.

    This data needs to be contextualized, as it is of course not the same to detect a neoplasm in a 90-year-old as a malignant tumor in a 30-year-old. Numerical numbers should be dissected based on age groups, risk factors and other considerations. In addition, in 2016, more than 15 million cancer survivors were registered in the United States, so this diagnosis is less and less directly correlated with death. In short: don’t panic.

    Despite this call for a calm and necessary appreciation of the fight against hypochondria, it cannot be denied that these data show that cancer is about to stay in our society. For that, exploring factors such as the risk of developing cancer by genetic inheritance becomes essential. We show you what we know so far.

    Question of nothing

    First of all, it is necessary differentiate an inherited familial cancer syndrome from an environmental problem. If several people in a family smoke, it is not surprising to anyone that more than one member can develop lung cancer, as up to 90% of deaths from these neoplasms are linked to smoking. The same goes for obesity, for example, which can promote the development of these types of cancer.

    If a family is in an area full of pollutants, works together in an unhealthy environment, has inappropriate general habits, and many other factors, it is natural to think that their members will be more likely to develop cancer. This does not necessarily correspond to a genetic predisposition, but rather environmental or behavioral.

    Once this question is clarified, it is necessary to clarify that there are hereditary cancer syndromes. It is estimated that 5-10% of cancerous processes are associated with hereditary genetic factorsAs researchers have associated mutations in more than 50 specific genes that predispose carriers to suffer from this group of diseases.

    Once the term “mutation” is introduced, it is essential to frame it in the etiology of the cancer. As we said above, the malignant tumor process is due to a cell mutation, whereby these cells divide abnormally quickly and do not meet the typical times of cell death and proliferation. This gives rise to the dreaded tumor, an abnormal mass of tissue that does not respond to any biological functionality. Thus, the genetic mutations that favor this situation can be inherited or acquired:

    Mutations of a hereditary nature are present in the egg or sperm that form in the child. By endowing all the cells of the fetus with a single primordial, we can say that this type of mutation is found in every cell of the individual (including eggs and sperm), so that it can be passed on to subsequent generations. .

    On the other hand we have somatic or acquired mutations, Which do not come from one of the parents but occur throughout the life of the individual. In this case, the mutation comes from a cell of a specific tissue, and the whole descendant cell line must present it, but it will not have the body cells already formed or which are dividing independently of the carcinogen. Most cancers are caused by these types of mutations.

      A special case: breast cancer

      In the case of the risk of developing cancer by genetic inheritance, it can be said that many familial cancer syndromes are caused by inherited mutations in tumor suppressor genes. These genes are vitally important because monitor cell growth, correct replication errors and indicate when cells should die.

      We can sin as reductionists, but let’s explain this conglomerate in the friendliest way possible: we have two copies of each gene (one from the father and one from the mother), so inheriting an abnormal gene shouldn’t be a problem as long as the other is functional.

      Things get complicated when the second copy of the inherited gene stops working (either because of an acquired mutation, perhaps, or because the other parent also has the defective gene), because in this case, when both copies are ‘wrong’, the tumor suppressor gene can lose its functionality. Naturally, this results in a greater chance of developing cancer.

      An exemplary case of this event is breast cancer, as 5% of cases have been reliably shown to be linked to genes of autosomal dominant inheritance. For example, mutations in certain genes such as BRCA1 and BRCA2 are clearly correlated with carcinogenic processes in the breasts and ovaries. Since these genes are involved in the process of tumor suppression and genetic repair, it is not uncommon for their inactivation or faulty regulation to increase the chances of suffering from certain types of malignant tumors.


      Is there a risk of developing cancer by genetic inheritance? Yes, because as we said, 5 to 10% of cancers are linked to hereditary factors. Should I be afraid of having cancer if a loved one has had it? Unless your doctor tells you to perform genetic testing, no.

      It is enough to see these data to reject any trace of hypochondrism: 5% of cancers are due to a genetic predisposition, 10% to working conditions and the remaining 80 to 90% to lifestyle habits. While this is a statement that requires multiple meanings, we prefer it to be the general message.

      In most cases, cancer doesn’t magically appear factors such as smoking, alcoholism or obesity have a clear correlation with this group of diseases. That is why in our way of life is the key to survival, beyond any genetic conditioning.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Caldés, T. (2006). Hereditary cancer: the basics of genetics. Psychooncology, 2 (2), 183-96.
      • Cancer genetics, Clinic Barcelona. Collected September 30 at https://www.clinicbarcelona.org/asistencia/enfermedades/cancer/genetica-del-cancer#:~:text=El%20c%C3%A1ncer%20es%20una%20enfermedad,el%20que% 20% C3% A1n% 20los% 20 genes.
      • Cancer genetics, National Cancer Institute (NIH). Retrieved September 30, from https://www.cancer.gov/espanol/cancer/causas-prevencion/genetica#2
      • Cancer Risk: What the Numbers Mean, Mayoclinic.org. Collected September 30 at https://www.mayoclinic.org/es-es/diseases-conditions/cancer/in-depth/cancer/art-20044092#:~:text=El%20riesgo%20absoluto%20es%20de, about% 20un% 2011% 20por% 20ciento.
      • Cancer Syndromes in Families, American Cancer Society. Collected September 30 at https://www.cancer.org/es/cancer/causas-del-cancer/genetica/sindromes-de-cancer-familiar.html

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