Link Between Cancer and Family History

August 12, 2013

Butterfly girl with pediatric cancer
Image credit: Tracie Taylor

Cancer, an abnormal and uncontrolled growth of the cells that make up living things, is associated with family medical history. Even in an healthy body, cells could grow into sporadic cancer cells. So, in this case, inside every living things's cells could grow into cancer cells.

Cancer cells may lie dormant for years, or even decades before they grow sporadic and produce the symptoms of disease. Some cancers develop extremly slowly and often escape detection during the life of the patient. Different types of cancer may be caused by many factors, and different combinations of conditions. Also, there is a possibility that the human body immune system might subdue the tumor, or cancer cells without any treatments.

From 6,773.281 million of world population, in 2008, there were 12.6626 million new cancer cases, and 7.5648 million cancer deaths. The risk of getting cancer before the age of 75 years, was 18.6% worldwide. While the risk of dying from cancer before age the 75 years, was 11.1% worldwide.

Denmark was become #1 country with the highest cancer rate, in both men and women. Followed by Ireland in the second, and Australia in the third. The worldwide estimate mortality rate in women was ASR (Age standardised rates) 99.1 people, in 210.8 estimate cancer incidences, per 100,000 people. While in men, the worldwide estimate mortality rate was ASR 139.1 people, in 303.7 estimate cancer incidences, per 100,000 people. (Globocan 2008)

The Worldwide Most Common Cancer

Lung cancer is the most common cancer in the world. Lung cancer contributed 12.7%, or 1,608,055 new cases, in 2008. The death rate was 18,2%, or 1,376,579 cases of cancer death worldwide.

A cohort study involving 71,392 non smokers women, in Shanghai, China, indicated a moderate association of lung cancer risk with a family cancer history in general, and not specifically to a family history of lung cancer. (Zhang Y, et al. 2007)

The data from recent cohort study, such as, clinicopathologic data, tumor genotype, family history of cancer, and specifically family history of lung cancer, from 230 cases of never smokers lung cancer patients, was also supported the earlier study. 57% of the cases had a family history of any common cancers, and only 42 out of 230 cases (18%), was presented a specific family history of lung cancer. (Gaughan EM, et al. 2013)

Inherited Breast Cancer

The second most common cancer worldwide, in which also the world most common cancer in women is breast cancer. Breast cancer in women contributed 10.9%, or 1,384,155 new cases, in 2008. The mortality rate was 6.1%, or 458,503 cases of death worldwide.

The following are breast cancer risk factors:

  • Age and Gender
    Advanced breast cancer cases are found mostly in women aged over 50 years. Although, men are 100 times less likely than women to get breast cancer, there is a chance for men in getting breast cancer.
  • Family History
    A major risk factor for breast cancer, is the family cancer history, in first degree relatives of the disease. The first degree relatives are parents, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. About 20% to 30% women with breast cancer, have a family history of the disease.
    Benign breast disease (BBD), a common condition marked by benign (non cancerous) changes in breast tissue, especially hyperplasia (an increased cell production in a normal tissue or organ), is also associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.
    In women with a family history of breast cancer, appear to be at increased risk of being diagnosed with BBD, in which is associated with a greatly increased risk of breast cancer. (Webb PM, et al. 2002)
  • Genes
    Human genes play a key role in the development of breast cancers. At least four types of breast cancers have been shown to be inherited, among them, Luminal A, Luminal B, Triple negative/basal-like, and HER2 type.
    Breast cancer may also effect several genes, either by the activation of oncogenes (genes carried by tumor viruses), or the inactivation of tumor suppressor genes (anti-oncogenes). So, genes are involved specifically as causative factors of breast cancer. (Anderson DE. 1992)
  • Menstrual Cycle
    In women who got an early menstrual period, or before the age of 12 years, will have a high risk of breast cancer. Also, in women who went through a late menopause, or above the age of 55 years, will have an increased risk of breast cancer.

Family History and Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer became the third most common cancer worldwide with 9.8%, or 1,235,108 new cases, in 2008. There were 609,051 cases of death have been reported, or 8,1% of the mortality rate worldwide.

Family history is well established to be a risk factor for developing colorectal cancer (CRC). Recent study was aimed to observe the link between family history and survival from colorectal cancer. The study was using the data from 10,937 patients of the National Study of Colorectal Cancer Genetics (NSCCG), to compare with the data from 10,782 patients of the National Cancer Data Repository (NCDR).

Although the study found no differences between those with and without a family history of CRC, age, sex, tumour stage, and the presence of multiple cancers. But, the study managed to provide the evidence that a family history of CRC, is associated with better survival after a diagnosis of CRC. (Morris EJ, et al. 2013)

Family History and Cancer in Children

A study presented five families of paediatric patients suffering from choroid plexus carcinoma, a rare cancer in the ventricles (small cavities or chambers within a body or organ) of the brain. Choroid plexus carcinoma is often found in infants below two years of age.

The study had found that three families met the criteria for germline TP53 (tumor protein p53, a tumor suppressor protein) mutation testing. From those three family, only one familiy conformed to the criteria of Li-Fraumeni syndrome, an inherited cancer syndrome associated with the mutations in TP53 genes.

In the remaining two families, there were no family history of cancers, and the parents were not shown to carry the TP53 genes mutation. (Krutilkova V, et al. 2005)

Although we cannot control from where we get our genes, but, we could control our lifestyle habits to reduce the risk. By keeping a healthy living, and diet will surely minimize the risk of cancer. Just like a quote, What you eat is what you are, being healthy is a choice in life.

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