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Cancer Genetics

Cancer Information

04/07/1999

Question:

What is cancer? What are the symptoms? What are some preventions? What is the treatment?

Answer:

Cancer is the end result of mistakes that occur in the DNA, the code responsible for the structure, growth, and function of the cell. These mistakes can change the normal growth control of the cell. It is the accumulation of multiple DNA mistakes or changes over many years that allows a normal cell to become abnormal, grow without control, and eventually become a cancer. The majority of cancer cases occurs in the absence of a significant family history and is caused by these acquired DNA changes. These changes are often a result of environmental, hormonal, and infectious exposures. Acquired DNA changes cannot be passed from one generation to the next so this type of cancer is considered sporadic (a chance event) and not hereditary.

A single inherited factor is felt to be responsible for about 5-10% of cancer. Inherited DNA changes are passed down to us from our mothers or fathers through the egg or sperm. Individuals born with a single change in a particular section of the DNA involved with cancer susceptibility will have a much greater chance for developing certain cancers in their lifetime. However, not everyone with a cancer susceptibility gene will develop cancer. The interaction of multiple minor genes and environmental influences can also increase the risk of developing cancer. Individuals with a family history of cancer may be more susceptible to the cancer-causing agents in the environment. This can be called a familial risk.

There are dozens of different types of cancer. Each one has its own set of symptoms and treatments. For more information on cancer check the web site for the American Cancer Society.

Related Resources:

Your American Cancer Society

For more information:

Go to the Cancer Genetics health topic, where you can:

Response by:

Judith A Westman, MD Judith A Westman, MD
Associate Professor, Clinical Internal Medicine, Pediatrics and Medical Biochemistry
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University