Most Common Hereditary Cancer Conditions Uncovered by Genetic Testing

Most Common Hereditary Cancer Conditions Uncovered by Genetic Testing



One of the first questions we receive from patients upon receiving their cancer diagnosis is “why did this happen to me?” While a majority of cancers are known to be sporadic—cancer conditions caused by genetic mutations which are acquired and not inherited—there’s still a tiny percentage of those cancers that are hereditary.

What is Hereditary Cancer?

Also known as inherited cancers, hereditary cancers occur when abnormal gene mutations that cause the cancer are passed down from parents to their children. With hereditary cancer syndromes, various cancer patterns can be seen within families.


Common Hereditary Cancer Conditions That Can Be Detected Through Genetic Testing

In this article, we’ll be exploring some of the most common hereditary cancers that can be uncovered with genetic testing such as:

  • Breast Cancer
  • Ovarian Cancer
  • Prostate Cancer
  • Colon Cancer
  • Pancreatic Cancer


1. Breast cancer

In Singapore, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in Singapore, affecting approximately 2,000 women each year. Unlike sporadic cases, inherited breast cancer develops a lot earlier in life and is likely to develop in both breasts as opposed to just one.
For most cases of hereditary breast cancers, they are usually caused by two types of tumor suppressor genes, BRCA1 (BReast CAncer gene one) and BRCA2 (BReast CAncer gene two). Normally, these genes are meant to prevent the growth and division of cells. But when abnormal mutations are present, it can cause them to grow out of control, resulting in breast cancer.
Other inherited mutations apart from the two most common ones include PTEN, TP53, and several others.


2. Ovarian cancer

Ovarian cancer begins in the ovaries and occurs when there is an abnormal growth of cells that form in that area. Most cases of ovarian cancer are often sporadic but there’s still a small fraction that is caused by inherited genetic factors.
Just like breast cancer, the genes most commonly affected in ovarian cancer are also the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, as well as the BRIP1, RAD51C, and RAD51D genes.
What makes ovarian cancer one of the most fatal forms of cancer is how symptoms are barely present in its early stages. That’s why treatment for ovarian cancer is most effective when detected early. If you suspect that you may have ovarian cancer based on your family history, do consider genetic testing to detect any potential mutations.


3. Prostate cancer

Prostate cancer is one of the most common cancers in Singaporean men, along with lung and colorectal cancer. Only found in males, this form of cancer starts when cells present in the prostate gland, which is responsible for contributing prostatic fluid to semen.
Similar to ovarian cancer, most prostate cancers are not hereditary. But when they spread more aggressively than usual, it’s most likely associated with a hereditary predisposition.
Some of the gene mutations that can be passed down and contribute to one’s risk of prostate cancer include BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, ATM, or HOXB13 genes.


4. Colon cancer

Colon cancer is a common type of colorectal cancer that begins in the final part of the digestive tract: the large intestine. While it can happen at any age, colon cancer generally affects older adults aged 50 and above. This condition starts with the growth of small clumps of cells inside of the colon named polyps, which are benign.
Certain types of polyps can develop into cancer over time, depending on the type of polyp. Common examples of gene mutations associated with hereditary colon cancer are MLH1, MSH2, MSH6, PMS2, and EPCAM.
Some of the most known hereditary colon cancer syndromes are Lynch Syndrome, Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP), both of which can be detected with the help of genetic testing.


5. Pancreatic cancer

Cancer in the pancreas—a small gland located between the spine and stomach, deep in the abdomen—can also occur. As pancreatic cancer develops, this cancer can spread to the liver, lungs, brain, and other major organs when in its advanced stages.
Despite the years of cancer research and significant treatment advances, studies reveal that pancreatic cancer still remains one of the most mysterious cancers out there. Apart from being a rare cancer, it’s also hard to read at its early stages, is resistant to drugs that are effective with other cancers, and cannot typically be treated by surgery.
Fortunately, there are other treatment options available such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and immunotherapy.


Uncover Your Cancer Risk Through Genetic Testing Today

Genetic testing can help individuals with a history of hereditary cancer not only detect, but assess their cancer risk in greater detail. From the genetic testing process itself, assessment of hereditary cancer risk, to post-test counselling, our genetic counsellors are committed to helping you throughout your journey.

With early detection, families can put an end to the uncertainty and anxiety, and be at ease with a proper assessment, diagnosis, and treatment plan moving forward. When it comes to your health, prevention and detection are always better than cure.