Risky genes is another term for HBOC (hereditary breast and ovarian cancer) syndrome, which is the presence of inherited mutations in genes that control tumor suppression in certain parts of the body, increasing the carrier's risk of developing cancer. The type of cancer and level of risk is dependent on which gene is mutated, the type of mutation within that gene and a variety of other factors. It is essential that a qualified genetics counsellor assess hereditary cancer risk.
Inside the nucleus of every cell of our body are pairs of chromosomes made up of genes. Genes are coded messages that tell cells how to operate. All cancer occurs as a result of multiple gene mutations that build up over a lifetime. In the case of risky gene carriers, there was already a mutation present in one or more of the genes responsible for tumor suppression in certain parts of their body before they were born, resulting in a reduced ability to ward off or fight cancer.
Risky genes cause hereditary cancer, which is more dangerous than spontaneous cancer. Hereditary cancer is diagnosed more often, at younger ages, has a higher rate of recurrence or a second primary site and is more aggressive. Risky gene carriers often develop cancer as early as in their 20’s and 30’s, in the prime of their lives. To make matters worse, some research reports risky gene carriers are developing cancer up to a decade earlier each generation.
Risky genes can be carried by both women and men; men can develop hereditary cancer and both women and men can pass down their risky genes to biological children at a rate of 50%. Depending on the mutation carried, men can have up to a 40% chance of developing hereditary prostate cancer and be susceptible to hereditary breast cancer, although at lower risk than females. They may also be at higher risk of some other types of hereditary cancer including pancreatic and melanoma.
About 10% of all breast and prostate cancer is estimated to be hereditary and at least 15% of all ovarian cancer. Not all risky gene carriers will develop those types of hereditary cancer and some will develop one or more of the related types of hereditary cancer. Taking this into consideration, more than 1 million Canadians are estimated to carry risky genes. Unfortunately, 80% of them are not yet aware, so do not have the ability to make informed decisions about their health that could save their lives.
There is no doubt learning one carries an increased risk of cancer is very difficult. However, in the case of risky genes the knowledge one is affected creates an opportunity that spontaneous cancer patients do not have. It creates access to medical recommendations that provide for early cancer screening to find cancer when most treatable and, in the case of breast and ovarian cancer, risk reduction options that are well-proven to reduce cancer risk up to a staggering 96%, essentially preventing an otherwise nearly inevitable cancer diagnosis.
While it is true that risky genes may be found in anyone, they are more likely to be found in persons with a certain family cancer history or ethnic background. This includes but is not limited to those of Ashkenazi Jewish, Icelandic and French Canadian decent. Genetic testing is covered if a prospective carrier fulfills certain criteria but can be obtained by anyone who would like to be tested through other means. On-line services should be comprehensive and provide genetic counselling. Learn more
Risky genes are complicated and the issues far-reaching. There are so many questions at every point of a risky gene carrier's journey. It takes a lot of work to pull together essential information to aid in tough decisions as a prospective or confirmed carrier. The larger cancer organizations tend to focus on one type of cancer and on after-diagnosis rather than prevention. Their information may be limited and medical professionals are not always fully informed. We can help you connect all the dots. Learn more
The public, medical community and even carriers themselves remain largely unaware or misinformed when it comes to the true danger and prevalence of this type of hereditary cancer. When the people around prospective or confirmed risky gene carriers don't understand the tough decisions carrier's face, it can be very isolating. So much so that without supportive connections carriers may forego or put off life-saving decisions that could save their lives. There are others out there just like you. Learn more
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