It is important to know about your families Cancer history. Our bodies are made up of cells (more than a hundred million million (100,000,000,000,000), each of which is controlled by a nucleus. The nucleus contains 23 pairs of chromosomes made up of genes.
Genes are long strings of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) which instructs cells what to do. Under normal circumstances, genes make sure that cells reproduce in a methodical and precise way. New cells are produced as needed to keep our bodies healthy.
For cancer to begin, specific changes occur within the genes of a cell or a group of cells leading to faults or mutations. Usually, around six plus faults need to occur in one cell before it becomes cancerous. If these faults stop a cell from working correctly, they may turn cancerous and start dividing uncontrollably.
Nature or Nurture?
More often than not genes change as a natural process during the course of our lifetime. A random mistake can take place when a cell is dividing. Or it can take place as the result of exposure to carcinogens such as cigarette smoke or sunlight. These are acquired mutations which are not inherited and cannot be passed on to our children.
Sometimes, though, faulty genes can be inherited from parents, increasing your risk of cancer. These inherited cancers are caused by germline mutations, and make up only about 5% to 10% of all cancers. Tests are available for some gene faults, but not all of them.
Breast cancer and cervical cancer are the most common cancers in South African women. These female cancers can affect anyone – regardless of whether you have experienced them in your family before or not
If you think there may be a cancer gene fault in your family, it is essential that you tell your GP or gynaecologist. Having a family history may increase your risk of cancer, so monitoring for cancer is even more important.
Remember, all female cancers are better treated when they are detected early. So, even if you do not have a family history, ensure that you go for regular check-ups and tests.
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Family history and inherited cancer genes