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.
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.
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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