Personal Health - Assessing the Risks for Hereditary Cancers - NYTimes.com

Personal Health - Assessing the Risks for Hereditary Cancers - NYTimes.com

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5/28/08 11:19 AM Personal Health - Assessing the Risks for Hereditary Cancers - NYTimes.com Page 1 of 4 May 27, 2008 PERSONAL HEALTH Red Flags for Hereditary Cancers By JANE E. BRODY All cancers are genetic in origin. When genes are working properly, cell growth is tightly regulated, as if a stoplight told cells to divide only so many times and no more. A cancer occurs when something causes a mutation in the genes that limit cell growth or that repair DNA damage. This is true even if the carcinogen is environmental, like tobacco smoke or radon, or if the cause is viral, like Helicobacter pylori or human papilloma virus. Carcinogenic agents induce cancer by causing genetic mutations that allow cells to escape normal biological controls. Most cancers arise in this way, sporadically in an individual, and may involve several mutations that permit a tumor to grow. But sometimes, a single potent cancer-causing mutation is inherited and can be passed from one generation to the next. 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. Genetic Chances In hereditary cancer, the mutated gene can be transmitted through the egg or sperm to children, with each child facing a 50 percent chance of inheriting the defective gene if one parent carries it and a 75 percent chance if both parents carry the same defect. You might be familiar with the BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations that are strongly linked to breast and ovarian cancer in women and somewhat less strongly to breast and prostate cancer in men. A woman with a BRCA mutation faces a 56 to 87 percent chance of contracting breast cancer and a 10 to 40 percent chance of ovarian cancer. For some hereditary cancer genes, the risks are even greater. A child who inherits a so-called RET mutation faces a 100 percent chance of developing an especially lethal form of thyroid cancer . Likewise, the risk of
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This note was uploaded on 07/08/2009 for the course LIFESCI ls 4 taught by Professor Merriam during the Winter '08 term at UCLA.

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Personal Health - Assessing the Risks for Hereditary Cancers - NYTimes.com

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