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Familial Cancers

If your family experiences a cluster of cancers, or if the same type of cancer appears in multiple family members at a younger-than-expected age, your family may carry a gene for hereditary cancer.

Familial cancers include:

Most cancers occur randomly and are not tied to hereditary conditions. Between five percent and 15 percent of cancers are related to inherited genetic factors. The hereditary nature of some cancers, such as breast cancer, tends to be overstated in the media.

If your family does carry a gene for a familial cancer, it is important for you to know your risks for developing the cancer or passing it to your children. Being prepared allows you to maintain your health, take preventive measures and know how to manage cancer if you or a family member develops the condition.

There is no one diagnostic test to confirm familial cancer, unless you have a specific genetic mutation that can be tracked with genetic testing. In most cases, your physician uses your personal and family medical history to look for signs of familial cancers. As an example, if your grandmother, your mother and you all developed breast cancer in your 30s, those are clear indicators of a hereditary cancer.

Signs of familial cancers include:

  • Multiple biological relatives with cancer
  • Cancer diagnosed at an earlier-than-usual age
  • Biological relatives in two or more generations with cancer
  • A person with more than one primary cancer
  • Family members with rare or unusual cancer
  • People with cancer in paired organs, such as cancer in both kidneys

If your physician determines that there is a high likelihood of cancer in your family, genetic testing for cancer susceptibility genes may be recommended to assist in making a diagnosis and to achieve a more detailed understanding of your risks for developing cancer.

Genetic testing is complicated and it is helpful to talk with a genetic counselor before undergoing genetic testing to understand the implications of test results.

At Indiana University Health, we are highly experienced in managing familial cancers. Our familial cancer program was the first of its kind in Indiana and offers advanced testing and counseling about the correlation of cancer risk with family history. We help you understand your cancer risk and prepare a plan to manage and maintain your future health.

Our affiliation with the Indiana University School of Medicine Division of Clinical and Biochemical Genetics gives you access to experts at the Indiana Familial Cancer Program. The program includes the specialty Indiana Familial Cancer Clinic, designed to assist you, your physician and/or your oncologist in helping you plan for and live with a familial cancer. The Indiana Familial Cancer Program is a powerful center for knowledge and data sharing, as well as research. It maintains familial cancer registries, including one for pancreatic cancer, and an extensive DNA databank for researchers and clinicians to study the causes and treatments of cancer.

When you meet with our familial cancer experts, they help you reflect on the information shared and they take the time to answer all of your questions. Our genetic counselors and physicians refer you to cancer care specialists at the IU Health Simon Cancer Center who work with you to create an effective treatment plan.

How We Can Help

How We Can Help

Familial Cancers Treatment Information

Familial cancers present concerns about understanding your risk for developing cancer, knowing how to maintain your health and being prepared to treat cancer if it occurs. We deliver many leading-edge services to help you manage this condition.


Familial Cancers Locations & Physicians

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Familial Cancers Support Services

Learn more about familial cancers treatments at these websites: