Harvard Health Letter

Ask the doctor: Is your cancer risk genetic?

Q. My father had lymphoma and my mother had colon cancer. Does that mean I'll get cancer, too?

A. Both lymphoma—cancer of the white blood cells—and colon cancer run in families. That means that if a first-degree relative—your parent, sibling, or child—has developed the cancer, your risk of getting the cancer is greater than the average person's. However, it does not mean that you will definitely get the cancer. Indeed, the odds are you won't. But your risk is increased.

When people are at higher-than-average risk of getting a particular type of cancer, their doctors should be more careful about checking them regularly to try to catch a developing cancer at its earliest and potentially curable stages. For example, while virtually all authorities recommend screening people for colon cancer from ages 50 to 75, many add that screening should start at age 35 if a person has a first-degree relative with colon cancer.

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