SCREENING AND PREVENTION

The hereditary cancer caused by risky genes is much more dangerous than the spontaneous cancer experienced in the general population, for many reasons.  Learning you carry risky genes and having access to early screening and cancer prevention options can save your life!

HOW IS HEREDITARY CANCER DIFFERENT THAN SPONTANEOUS CANCER?

  • Hereditary cancer is diagnosed much more often in affected families
  • Hereditary cancer is diagnosed at younger ages
  • Hereditary cancer tends to be more aggressive, which can make it harder to treat
  • The risky genes that cause hereditary cancer can be passed to children
  • Hereditary cancer has a higher rate of recurrence
  • There is a higher chance of a second primary hereditary cancer
  • Hereditary cancer is more prevalent in certain ethnic groups, such as the Ashkenazi Jewish
  • Hereditary cancer is not as well-funded.  This has resulted in a lack of awareness, specialized services and resources

​​Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer (HBOC) Syndrome is an inherited disorder in which the risk of breast and ovarian cancer is higher than in the general population, often considerably.  People who carry these mutations may also have an increased risk of other types of cancer, including prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer and melanoma.  HBOC syndrome is caused by germline mutations in genes that control tumor suppression in certain parts of the body.  This condition may also be referred to as ''the breast cancer gene'' or by the first gene that was discovered (BRCA) but we prefer to use the more inclusive term, ''risky genes''.

What is HBOC syndrome?

We all carry the genes that fall under HBOC syndrome, whether male or female.  Depending on the gene that is mutated and the specific mutation within that gene, the type of cancer a carrier is susceptible to varies as does the level of cancer risk.    

About 10% of breast and prostate cancer and 15% of ovarian cancer is known to be hereditary.


Based on recent statistics, up to 1/2 million Canadians living today have been or will be diagnosed with hereditary breast, ovarian or prostate cancer.  At least half of all risky gene carriers are not expected to be diagnosed with cancer or will be diagnosed with one of the other related types of cancer.  Taking that into consideration, about 1 million Canadians are estimated to carry risky genes.  

HOW COMMON ARE RISKY GENES?

Health recommendations may vary slightly, depending on the region.


Early screening
is recommended to catch cancer early, when it's most treatable. Since risky gene carriers tend to be diagnosed at younger ages, this includes breast and ovarian cancer screening from the age of 25 and prostate cancer screening from the age of 40.  Depending on the mutation carried, other types of cancer screening may also be recommended.


Chemoprevention  In some cases, chemoprevention may be recommended, usually in the form of tamoxifen or a similar drug that reduces estrogen. Oral contraceptives may be recommended to reduce ovarian cancer risk.


Preventative surgery  The method known to be most effective in reducing breast and ovarian cancer risk is surgery, in the form of double-mastectomy and ovary/fallopian tube removal.  In some cases, removal of the uterus is also recommended.


​​Lifestyle Changes There is increasing evidence to show that positive lifestyle changes,, especially exercise and healthy diets, reduce cancer risk.