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What Genes are Linked to Cancer?

December 21, 2022

Cancer is a disease where the genetic codes in the body that regulate cell multiplication are broken. Cells multiply like runaway trains instead of at an average rate. The good news is that there are no hereditary cancers. Parents can’t pass the disease on to their children in the same way as they can other conditions. 

Is Cancer Genetic?

Cancer, though, is unfortunately genetic. The root cause of cancer is a combination of genetic factors regarding how cells multiply. That means that, even though parents can’t pass the disease on directly, children who have parents with unfortunate genes inherit a predisposition to developing cancer during their lifetimes.

Something carcinogenic won’t affect most people, but in someone with a genetic weakness, it can become a near certainty that the person will develop cancer. BRCA1, the “breast cancer gene,” is a prime example of one of these genetic markers for cancer that are the basis for such cancer traits. Women routinely have double mastectomies rather than risk getting breast cancer when they have this gene.

What Genes Are Mutated to Cause Cancer?

Aside from BRCA1, the list of genetic cancers is extensive, including:

  • APC, EPCAM, and others that cause colorectal cancer
  • MLH1, MSH2, and others that cause endometrial cancer
  • RAD51C, PALB2, and others that cause fallopian-tube cancer
  • HOXB13, MSH6, and others that cause prostate cancer

Worse, many of these genes also cause the same cancers as other genes. For example, BRCA1 can cause both endometrial and fallopian-tube cancers in addition to causing breast cancer. MSH2 is responsible for both endometrial and prostate cancer too.

What Genes Are Most Commonly Linked to Cancer?

The gene called TP53, or p53, is present in more than half of patients who develop cancer. On the list of genetic markers, it’s No. 1. Even without BRCA1 present, which makes it 72% likely, or more, for a woman to develop breast cancer. A woman with a mutated TP53 gene is still 60% likely to develop breast cancer. The risk for certain forms of sarcoma is one in 10, and the risk for pancreatic cancer is one in 7.

Rarely, children who are assigned female at birth have one of the other TP53-related genetic markers for cancer: Li-Fraumeni syndrome. With it, the chance of developing cancer is 100%. One in four will develop cancer before age 5. The cancer traits of this mutation also mean that the likelihood of developing cancer before age 30 is 50%.

KMT2C, KMT2D, and ARID1A are three of the top 10 mutated genes on the list of genetic cancers.

How Do I Get Tested?

There are two types of genetic testing. Biomarker testing is the method doctors use to identify the type of cancer you have after you’ve already gotten it. On the other hand, DNA carrier testing determines if you’ve got something on the list of genetic markers. They’ll give your doctors clues about which hereditary cancers you have or might develop.

In some cases, if you have one type of cancer, then DNA carrier testing might reveal that you have a high risk for another cancer. This information is crucial for the doctors to be able to plan your treatment options for any cancers you might have or might develop later.

One of the treatment options your doctor might consider is the use of epigenetic drugs. These drugs don’t do anything to cure the spread of cancer cells. However, they change the body’s chemical makeup so that the cancer cells are more susceptible to radiation, chemotherapy, and other established methods of treating cancer.

In all cases, you should contact your doctor immediately upon the appearance of cancer symptoms. It might be nothing, but forewarned is forearmed, and you lose nothing by acting early.