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Survivorship: During and After Treatment

Second Cancer Risks Related to Family History and Genetics

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It's not possible to predict who might get a second cancer, but certain gene changes or hereditary (family) cancer syndromes can put a person at higher risk for some second cancers. However, most cancers are not clearly linked to the genes we inherit from our parents. Studies continue to look at the links between genetics, lifestyle habits, and known cancer-causing agents.

Family cancer syndromes are caused by abnormal gene changes (variants or mutations) that are often inherited from a parent. These syndromes can be linked to a higher risk for one or more kinds of cancer. For example, women with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer (HBOC) syndrome, which is most often caused by mutations in the genes BRCA1 and BRCA2, have a high risk of breast, ovarian, and some other cancers. Another example is hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer syndrome (HNPCC), also known as Lynch syndrome, which is linked to a high risk for colorectum, endometrial, ovarian, bladder, stomach, pancreatic, and some other cancers.

Genetic counseling and testing with trained genetic professionals may be useful and recommended for people who have a family cancer syndrome or a higher risk for more than one kind of cancer because of family history.

A certain kind of genetic testing is called pharmacogenetics. Pharmacogenetics might be used for certain types of gene variations. The test looks at how a person's variations in genes might affect how they react to cancer treatment.

Talk to your cancer care team about whether genetic testing is right for your situation, as well as its cost, pros, and cons.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as editors and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics (NIH). Second primary cancers. Accessed at on September 19, 2019.

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Last Revised: February 1, 2020

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