General Question

Sunsetseast's avatar

Is cancer (in all it's forms) hereditary?

Asked by Sunsetseast (85points) November 17th, 2009 from iPhone

I know having a history of skin cancer in my family can make me more prone to get skin cancer, but what I need to know is, if my family has a history of other types of cancer (like lung cancer and stomach
cancer) does that mean I’m
more prone to skin cancer?

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27 Answers

DrBill's avatar

More prone, yes.

Will you get it, not necessarily.

faye's avatar

I didn’t get enough info from that site nor could I find a reference in my books [ which, yes, are old]. What connection is there between a relative having lung cancer and @Sunsetseast getting skin cancer?

SamIAm's avatar

i have a friend who is a cancer researcher and i can’t quote her exactly but she had mentioned something about it being in your genes and the more cells you destroy (by partaking in activities that are unhealthy such as smoking, for example) the more cells your body has to make and therefore is more likely to replicate the bad/cancerous dna.

feel free to correct me if this is wrong.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

Because you are a human, you will definitely get cancer if you live long enough. It is a given – its just most people die before cancerous tissue develops to any significant level. There are certain risk factors that will increase your likelihood of cancer. Heredity is only one risk factor. Others are radiation exposure, ingestion or inhalation of carcinogens, and infection with particular viruses.

If you read the literature on different types of cancers, you will easily be able to find which ones have a genetic component and which do not.

galileogirl's avatar

Certain cancers seem to have a high genetic corelation. Early onset, aggressive breast cancers are definitely family related but also much rarer than later onset, slower developing disease. While some cancers seem to run in families there are other, more likely causes. I have known several people, including my father who developed skin cancer. What they had in common was not their genetics. They were all very fair skinned, they developed lesions in their late 60’s and they had a lot of sun exposure in their youth, all more likely causes of skin cancer. When family members either smoke or live with smokers and then develop lung cancer. it is more likely the cigarettes than genes that are responsible.

dpworkin's avatar

Cancer is actually hundreds of different illnesses with different treatments, effects and etiologies. You can’t really make a blanket statement about cancer per se.

JLeslie's avatar

Everything counts. Genes, overall health, carcinogens you are exposed to, diet. I think of everything like this…your genes give you a range of possibility and then the environment either enhances or diminishes our possibilities of a trait, predisposition, or disease, expressing itself. So genetically you might be more susceptible to lung cancer than me, but you never smoke and I do, so I get it. Or, maybe we both smoke, so you get it at age 50 and I don’t until I am 70. Same with everything. Maybe my genes say I will have an IQ somewhere between 120 and 140. Right environment I am 140, bad environment 120.

Now, take breast cancer. If you have the “gene” we have already identified for breast cancer you have a better than 80% chance of developing breast cancer. The thing is the majority of people who get breast cancer do not have the gene. Probably in the future we will discover more genes that can be identified for other cancers and diseases which will be very good predictors of developing disease.

Did that make sense? I think I did not explain it well. I am not a medical professional, this is just how I look at it.

faye's avatar

Breast cancer is certainly familial. I’d say the predisposition would be hereditary.

JLeslie's avatar

@faye the BRAC gene is considerd the breast cancer gene. People who have it have something like an 85% chance of getting breast cancer, but only 10% of breast cancer patienst have the gene (I don’t remember the stats exactly). The majority of people with breast cancer do not have relatives with breast cancer. There are probably other genes besides BRAC not yet discovered that influence breast cancer I would guess. So, I am agreeing with you, but with the point that even if no one in a persons family has breast cancer it is no guarantee she, and sometimes he won’t get it. I actually worked with a woman whose father had breast cancer. She swore that all of those chest xrays when we were young caused such high rates of breast cancer, i do remember having several chest xrays when I was very little.

faye's avatar

Yes, I remember having a chest x-ray every spring in elementary school. They lined us up in the gym and I don’t remember much shielding. We were probably 2-hand x-rayed as well! I took of a man whose breast cancer had spread everywhere.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@faye That is really bad. Although a chest x-ray in itself gives only a tiny radiation dose, doing it over and over again to children is bad practice.

JLeslie's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh Back then the xrays had more radiation, and it was zapping young growing bodies. I don’t know how old @faye is; I did not have an xray every year, but I had an xray many times when a cold had gone to my lungs with a cough. I don’t know if the doctor was just CYA to prescribe me codeine cough medicine or what? I feel pretty sure my lungs didn’t sound like pneumonia. I never had pneumonia. Also, the best stuffy head med was a prescription back then, isn’t now, so my mom would have to bring me into the doctor if I had bad congestion and she had run out of the medication. Once it was OTC I don’t think I ever went to the doctor again for a cold.

JLeslie's avatar

Actually, a friend of mine sees a doctor who xrays her chest every year as part of her check-up. I don’t tink most doctors do that. I don’t know if he starts it at a certain age? She is in her early 50’s.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@JLeslie Back then x-rays had a very specific dose. These days a phenomenon known as exposure creep means that some departments will give an even higher dose, although that depends on local protocols and some can be substantially lower. Also with the ease of imaging in recent times, many doctors are using it in preference to their clinical skills, so more images are being requested. I’ll get off my soap box now.

According to the literature, x-ray check-ups are only indicated for mammography and when there has been previous pathologies, for example if a cancer is removed the patient may have check-ups every few years to make sure it hasn’t returned.

JLeslie's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh Interesting about the xray doses. I would assume there is some sort of maximum legal dose?

This woman I mention above has no prior reason to have yearly chest xrays. The reason I say this is because I said in a dissaproving questioning tone when she told me, “why do you do that?” And her repky was along the lines of being proud she gets herself checked out thoroughly every year.

I agree doctors have lost or don’t rely as much on other skills to diagnose, and in the doctors defense they do feel pressure to cover themselves against lawsuits, and probably do a lot of unnecessary diagnostics.

Honestly, most doctors I know feel xrays are no big deal not something to worry about. They go along with the mantra that we all get plenty of radiation just being in the sun, an xray is nothing. I completely disagree. There have been doctors on fluther that are more cautious, which makes me feel better.

JLeslie's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh You’re not American right? So it might vary by country.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@JLeslie To my knowledge, there is no maximum dose. We operate by the principle of “As Low As Reasonably Achievable”. For each examination, there is a necessary minimum dose. If you are overweight, this dose increases exponentially. There is a threshold where if too great a dose is given it must be reported as a radiation accident, but that applies more to nuclear medicine than radiology.

Doctors get surprisingly little education on radiation, considering they are given licence to order imaging. In the US, it is estimated that around 20,000 people a year contract medically induced cancers (don’t quote me on that statistic, I can’t quite find my source). It is hard to get a figure of how many of these are preventable, but certainly this figure could be reduced with just a little more care. Of course many more lives are saved by imaging, so it is still worthwhile if intelligently requested.

No, I’m not American, I’m Australian. One of the things very wrong with the US health system is that some things aren’t regulated heavily enough. Some radiology practices in the US do whole body CT scans, just to see if something is wrong. Basically it is sponging off hypochondriacs, while giving them a 1.5–3% greater chance of contracting cancer during their lifetime. Such practices are illegal here. But again, we could always do more.

faye's avatar

These x-rays on me would be in the sixties, we were tested for TB, and given a sugar cube with polio vaccine on it, Every day in class we were given a cod liver oil capsule. There were other needles- boosters, I assume. I nursed in the 70’s and in the 2000’s- way more xrays now, duplicates from hospital to hospital.

JLeslie's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh Thanks for that explanation!

@faye more reason to go with electronic charts, labs, etc. No one should be having dup xrays.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@faye Did the Mantoux test exist back then? When I was being cleared to work in hospitals here, only people who failed the Mantoux had to have a chest x-ray for TB.

It may have been managed well though, considering the number of diseases that were effectively eradicated during those decades.

JLeslie's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh I’m 43 and we had the tine test back when I was in elementary. I don’t know when the PPD came into use, which I think is the Mantoux test, right? Tine did have a lot of false positives if I am not mistaken. We did not get chest xrays for TB unless the test was positive or we had symptoms of TB, at least not where I lived, back when I was a kid. But, you can never be sure what doctors are doing in some other state. Of course with TB there are national rules for those exposed or active with the disease, but back then I am not sure how these things were adhered to, or if protocol was perfectly systematic across the country.

When I was working at a hospital a few years ago we had a lot of patients who were positive, and more than once they would get the test again when required, when they are not supposed to get PPD again, because they can have a very bad reaction. Once positive always positive, and xrays the rest of your life to determine if the disease is active. I can’t tel you how many medical professionals don’t understand this. Doctors I am sure do, but testing in certain environments is so systematic, and administered by nurses or techs depending on the situation. My only point is, in a country as big as America, anything could have been happening, depending on your corner of the country, and the particular doctor or school district you live in.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@JLeslie I did not know that ‘once positive, always positive’ rule. I got a positive when I was tested, because I had recently had a viral vaccination. Good to know.

I suppose these things would be hard to manage on such a large scale – I think your country has around 15x the population of mine! It must be much harder to implement national protocols.

JLeslie's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh Well, I have no idea if the viral vaccination gave you the positive. The big question there is are you positive for exposure or not? If it was a reaction to another vaccine, maybe you would be negative your next PPD test?? That specific info I don’t know, I guess you can risk is once if you want. Twice positive I would assume you are positive for exposure, and not do it again. Whenever you are tested they are supposed to ask you if you have ever had a positive reading, and if yes send you straight for xray. Some people in some parts of the world can’t do TB testing because they are giving the vaccination, so they always come up positive, America chose not to administer the vaccination, I think it is given in parts of Europe and Asia.

You can also consider taking antibiotics, most people opt not to, but I know two people who did, to reduce the chance of TB developing.

faye's avatar

@Fire I don’t know what kind of test I had, but it wasn’t tied to the doing of the x-ray. I’m in Canada.

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