Cancer remains a significant health concern in Australia, with an estimated 162,000 new cases diagnosed in 2022. While environmental and lifestyle factors play a major role in cancer development, genetics also contributes in a substantial way, particularly for some types of cancer. 

The Role of Genetics in Cancer 

Our genes act like a blueprint for our bodies, containing instructions that influence growth, development and cellular function. However, some genes, when mutated, can increase a person’s susceptibility to developing certain cancers. These mutations can be inherited from parents and passed down to offspring. Hereditary cancers only account for a small percentage (around 5-10%) of all cancers, but they can cluster within families. 

Gaining Knowledge and Taking Action 

Genetic testing for hereditary cancers can be a valuable tool for identifying individuals at an increased risk. These tests analyse specific genes known to be associated with a higher likelihood of developing certain cancers. Here’s how it works: 

Who Should Consider Genetic Testing? 

Genetic testing for hereditary cancer may be recommended for individuals with a personal or family history of: 

Benefits of Genetic Testing 

The knowledge gained from genetic testing can empower individuals to take proactive steps towards managing their cancer risk. This may involve: 

Genetic testing is a personal decision and it’s essential to weigh the potential benefits against any emotional or psychological concerns. Discussing your family history and options with your clinical geneticist can be invaluable in helping you decide if genetic testing is right for you. 

Being Proactive About Your Future 

Understanding your genetic risks for cancer allows for informed decision-making about your health. One way to accomplish this is by undergoing genetic testing for most of the common types of cancer (including breast, ovarian, uterine and bowel) as well as rare cancer syndromes. With the right knowledge and support, you can take proactive steps to manage your risk and work towards a healthier future. 

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