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Digestive Disorders

Stomach cancer

07/09/2008

Question:

My ex-huseband has just been diagnosed with stomach cancer. I am concerned about our children. Is there any risk of them inheriting it?

Answer:

In rare instances, stomach cancer can be inherited.  Families with hereditary forms of stomach cancer may have a number of members with stomach cancer, other gastrointestinal cancer such as colon cancer or small bowel cancer, or even breast cancer.  In general, cancers in these families occur earlier than would be expected: generally before age 50. However, most of the time, stomach cancer does not occur because of a strong hereditary factor such as a gene mutation.

Even if the family is not so distinctive, there still may be some "hereditary" contribution.  Studies generally indicate that individuals with a close relative with stomach cancer (a parent or sibling) will have about twice the population risk to develop stomach cancer.  The population risk for stomach cancer is about 1%, so your children's chance to develop stomach cancer is about 2% over their lifetimes.  As the number of relatives stomach cancer increases, so does the risk.  You or your children should discuss the family history with their doctors, and learn whether additional screening would be recommended. 

If you are interested in learning more about stomach cancer, including other risk factors and the influence of family history on stomach cancer risk, you can either visit National Cancer Institute site for Stomach (Gastric) Cancer, or you can contact the National Society of Genetic Counselors to locate a genetic counselor near you.

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Response by:

Duane D Culler, PhD, MS Duane D Culler, PhD, MS
Clinical Instructor of Genetics
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University