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Quiz: Could hereditary cancer run in your family?

(BPT) - People go to great lengths to decrease their cancer risk. Many of us wear sunscreen, avoid processed foods, go for regular checkups and eat organic produce - but what if your risk is hereditary, rather than environmental?

News stories about celebrities like Angelina Jolie have made people aware that mutations in the BRCA gene can cause breast and ovarian cancer, but that's not the whole story. Researchers have discovered many genetic mutations that can cause a variety of cancers, including breast, colorectal, endometrial, ovarian, pancreatic and prostate.

Fortunately, there are warning signs that a person is at increased risk of hereditary cancer. The following questions can help you determine whether genetic counseling makes sense for you and your family.

1. Do you have a first-, second- or third-degree relative who has tested positive for an inherited mutation in a gene that is linked to cancer risk?

2. If you have been diagnosed with cancer, do any of the following apply to you?

  • Pancreatic, ovarian, fallopian tube, primary peritoneal, triple-negative breast cancer or male breast cancer at any age
  • Breast, colorectal, endometrial or prostate cancer at age 50 or younger
  • Metastatic or high-grade prostate cancer
  • Two separate cancers
  • A first- or second-degree relative with any of the above cancers

3. If you've never been diagnosed with cancer, do you have one or more first- or second-degree relatives with breast cancer and any of the following?

  • Diagnosed at age 45 or younger
  • Triple-negative breast cancer
  • Two separate breast cancers, with the first diagnosis at age 50 or younger
  • Male breast cancer

4. If you've never been diagnosed with cancer, do you have one or more first- or second-degree relatives with any of the following?

  • Colorectal cancer before age 50
  • Endometrial cancer before age 50
  • Ovarian, fallopian tube or primary peritoneal cancer
  • Rare or childhood cancers

5. If you've never been diagnosed with cancer, do you have one or more first-degree relatives with any of the following?

  • Metastatic or high-grade prostate cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer

6. If you've never been diagnosed with cancer, do you have two or more relatives on the same side of the family diagnosed with any combination of the following at any age?

  • Breast cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Melanoma
  • Sarcoma
  • Adrenal cancer
  • Brain tumors
  • Leukemia
  • Endometrial cancer
  • Thyroid cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Diffuse gastric cancer
  • Colon cancer

If you answered YES to any of the above questions, experts recommend asking your doctor about genetic counseling and testing. A genetic test can help you and your relatives learn if there is an inherited mutation linked to cancer in your family. (Learn more about testing guidelines and where to find a genetic counselor at

While some people shrug off the idea of genetic testing because they believe there's nothing that they can do to prevent cancer, that thinking is flawed. A number of surgeries, such as mastectomies and hysterectomies, can dramatically reduce a person's odds of getting cancer. Those who know they're at high risk can also schedule more frequent cancer screenings, which increases the odds of catching cancer early, before it spreads. If you suspect you're at increased risk, National Hereditary Cancer Week (Sept. 24-30) is the perfect time to book an appointment with your health care provider.

For more information, support and resources on hereditary cancer, visit FORCE (Facing Our Risk of Hereditary Cancer Empowered).

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