Oncogenes, Tumor Suppressor Genes, and Cancer

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How can oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes be used to help prevent cancer?

As mentioned before, some gene changes (mutations) can be inherited, which can increase your risk of developing cancer. Some mutations in oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes have been found often enough to be useful in helping decide which people are at higher risk for developing certain types of cancers.

If you have family members with certain cancers known to be caused by genetic mutations, you might find it helpful to know if you also have the mutation. Genetic testing can be used to look for such mutations. But if you are thinking about having genetic testing you need to see a genetic counselor or other genetics professional first. The testing often costs a lot, and a genetic counselor can look at your family's history to see if it is likely to be worthwhile. And the results of genetic testing are not always clear cut. The genetic counselor can help interpret the results so that you know what they mean to you and your life. The counselor also can help you learn how to deal with the test results. Finding a genetic mutation can have a major impact on a person’s life, as well as the lives of other family members.

If you know that you carry a certain gene mutation, you may be able to take some steps to minimize your risk. For example, women who carry a mutation in one of the BRCA genes have a high risk of getting breast cancer. These women are advised to start screening for breast cancer at a younger age and to consider screening with MRI along with mammography to help find breast cancer early. Some of these women even have surgery to lower their risk of cancer.

People with APC gene mutations have a disease called familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP). They may develop hundreds of colon polyps at a young age. There are so many polyps that it isn’t possible to remove them all, and so these people often need to have their colons removed to prevent colon cancer.

For more information, see our documents, Genetic Testing: What You Need to Know and Heredity and Cancer.

Last Medical Review: 12/27/2011
Last Revised: 12/27/2011