Cancer Genetics screening service
Cancer is not usually inherited, but some types – mainly breast, ovarian, colorectal and prostate cancer – can be strongly influenced by genes and can run in families.
We all carry certain genes that are normally protective against cancer – they correct any DNA damage that naturally occurs when cells divide. Inheriting faulty versions or "variants" of these genes significantly raises your risk of developing cancer, because the altered genes cannot repair the damaged cells, which can build up and form a tumour.
BRCA1 and BRCA2 are two examples of genes that raise your cancer risk if they become altered. Having a variant BRCA gene greatly increases a woman's chance of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer. This was the reason Angelina Jolie had preventative breast cancer surgery, followed by ovarian cancer surgery. They also increase a man's chance of developing male breast cancer and prostate cancer.
BRCA genes are not the only cancer risk genes. Researchers recently identified more than 100 new gene variants associated with an increased risk of breast, prostate and ovarian cancer. Individually, these new gene variants only slightly increase the risk of cancer, but a combination could mean a high risk overall.
Your level of risk can be assessed via the cancer screening service which is provided by Addenbrooks Hospital for this area. If you think you may be at a higher risk, your first step is to talk to your GP who can refer you to this service.
If you or your partner have a high-risk cancer gene, such as an altered version of BRCA1, it may be passed on to any children you have.
Patients who go through the cancer genetic screening service may be offered the opportunity to enrol on approved research studies, looking into causes and implications of the condition in their family.