Everybody has wondered at some point where in the world there cancer came from.  Sir Paul Nurse, a Nobel Prize winner and head of the prestigious Rockefeller University, opines that the vast majority of cancers are random events.  The only behaviors that are known to correlate with cancer are smoking and exposure to sunlight.

But there are definitely cancers that are genetic in origin.  (Actually, all cancers involve mutated genes, but I am talking about inheriting defective genes from a family member.)  I always thought genetics played a big part in my husband’s illnesses.  So I found it interesting to read in the New York Times (5/25/08 by Jane Brody), what the risk factors are for hereditary cancer:

“Megan Harlan, senior genetic counselor at Sloan-Kettering, said these were red flags that suggest a cancer might be hereditary:

* Diagnosis of cancer at a significantly younger age than it ordinarily occurs.
* Occurrence of the same cancer in more than one generation of a family.
* Occurrence of two or more cancers in the same patient or blood relatives

“Dear husb fits this profile to a T and has even more genetic baggage to add!  A New Zealand study found that men whose mothers had breast cancer have a four-fold risk of developing PC.  Well, DH’s Dad had PC and his mother had BC — at a very young age, which sometimes signals a more lethal type (perhaps related to the deadly BRCA gene).   And husb did get the PC at a relatively young age, 53.  Finally, he’d had a previous cancer, a melanoma.

So how does this make me feel?  Validated, for one.  My diagnosis of “hereditary cancer” seems to be accurate.  There’s actually some comfort in knowing that your illness was not inevitable but probable.  In other words, it’s not your fault.

Here are a few more facts about hereditary cancer from the NY Times article:

“An estimated 5 to 10 percent of cancers are strongly hereditary, and 20 to 30 percent are more weakly hereditary, said Dr. Kenneth Offit, chief of clinical genetics at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.”

“. . .  BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations are strongly linked to breast and ovarian cancer in women and somewhat less strongly to breast and prostate cancer in men.”