When cancer is inherited through genes
Between five and ten percent of all cancers are hereditary. This increases the risk of certain types of cancer in some families. Individual risk can be determined by genes – provided one knows the risk genes. A German research team is currently investigating the genes that increase the risk of breast cancer.
The German Cancer Society funds a nationwide research association of around 1.3 million euros in which cancer researchers have come together to bridge knowledge gaps about hereditary cancer. Research is also focused on identifying other risk genes.
Many cancer-causing genes are still unknown
BRCA1 and BRCA2 are risk genes known to increase the likelihood of causing breast cancer and hereditary ovarian cancer. According to the research team, there are a large number of other hardly researched risk genes that can also lead to cancer. Many different genes have been identified in many variants associated with an increased risk of these cancers.
“Depending on the variant present in a particular gene, the probability of developing a tumor increases or decreases,” the researchers wrote. However, many of these risk genes remain largely unexplored. Particularly in the case of newly discovered and well-screened candidates so far, there are a large number of variants, the clinical implications of which remain unknown.
Why can cancer be hereditary?
According to the working group, harmful genetic changes passed down within the family can contribute to the development of cancer. In such high-risk families, there is often a buildup of certain types of cancer. This is particularly evident in breast or ovarian cancer.
20% of all breast cancer cases can be hereditary
The risk genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 are among the best studied genes associated with an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer. The percentage of cancer cases caused by these dangerous genes is less than five percent. However, researchers estimate that about 20 percent of all cases of breast and ovarian cancer are hereditary.
Wrong treatments due to ignorance
Not knowing whether or not cancer is hereditary can lead to misinterpretations and, as a result, to measures and treatments that may not even be necessary. Explains Professor Dr. Rita Schmutzler, director of the Family Breast and Ovarian Cancer Center at the University Hospital Cologne. So it’s critical to be able to make a prediction as accurate as possible and plan next steps with those affected, according to a cancer expert.
The latest technology aims to bridge knowledge gaps
Using the latest information technology methods, the working group around Professor Dr. Schmutzler is now building a comprehensive database of genetic variants associated with an increased risk of hereditary breast cancer and ovarian cancer. The database aims to fill knowledge gaps in genetic analyses, in the classification of risk genetic variants and in the clinical interpretation of results.
Then the special programs analyze the genetic variants and classify them according to clinical effects. In this way, doctors in the future will be able to make more accurate predictions about the occurrence of a hereditary tumor and the possible course of the disease.
Typical concept of other hereditary forms of cancer
“With the help of these findings, we want to make a personalized calculation of the risks, and take appropriate preventive measures and possible targeted therapy for each patient,” Schmutzler says.
“By funding this joint project, together with the scientists involved, we are also pursuing the goal of developing a model concept that can also be developed for other types of cancer,” adds Gerd Nitkofen, Chairman of the German Cancer Aid Board. It is therefore “a significant groundbreaking scientific work for the medical care of tomorrow”. (FP)
Author and source information
This text complies with the requirements of the specialized medical literature, clinical guidelines and current studies and has been examined by medical professionals.
Diploma Editor (FH) Volker Plasik
- German Cancer Help: Hereditary Breast Cancer – Dangerous Gene Tracker (published date: October 19, 2021), krebshilfe.de
This article is for general guidance only and is not intended to be used for self-diagnosis or self-treatment. It cannot replace a visit to the doctor.
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