Cancer Screening

April 2009

FocusCancer Screening

There’s cancer in the family

Volume 38, No.4, April 2009 Pages 194-198

Jon Emery

Kristine Barlow-Stewart

Sylvia Metcalfe

Background

Patients will sometimes raise the issue of cancer ‘running in their family’ or it may be identified by the general practitioner when enquiring about a patient’s family history.

Objective/s

This article discusses how to deal with concerns about familial cancers including details of the common familial cancer syndromes. It provides further sources of information to use when determining a patient’s risk of cancer based on their family history.

Discussion

The family history is an important predictor of cancer risk and can be used to tailor cancer prevention strategies and to identify high risk families who may be eligible for predictive genetic testing.

Patients will sometimes raise the issue of cancer ‘running in their family’ or it may be identified by the general practitioner when enquiring about a patient’s family history. Familial clustering of certain cancers was formally described in the 19th century by the French surgeon Paul Broca in his ‘Traité des tumeurs’ recognising the significance of his wife’s family of four generations with breast and gastrointestinal cancers. Genetic factors probably play a role in all types of cancer, but certain cancers, such as breast, colorectal and ovarian are more likely to demonstrate familial clustering. However, within these cancers, only 5–10% involve a strongly inherited predisposition.1

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Correspondence afp@racgp.org.au

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