Will I Get Cancer If My Mom Had It: Understanding the Genetics Behind Cancer

Cancer is a group of diseases characterized by the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the body. It is known to affect millions of people worldwide and is responsible for a significant number of deaths each year. One common question that arises when it comes to cancer is whether or not it is hereditary. In this article, we will explore the genetics behind cancer and answer the question, “Will I get cancer if my mom had it?”

Understanding How Cancer Develops

Cancer develops when there is a mutation or abnormal change in the DNA of a cell. This mutation can be caused by a variety of factors, such as exposure to radiation, certain chemicals, and viruses. However, it is important to understand that not all mutations lead to cancer. In fact, most mutations are harmless and are repaired by the body’s natural repair mechanisms. Only when the mutation occurs in a specific gene that regulates cell growth and division, known as an oncogene or tumor suppressor gene, does cancer develop.

What Are Oncogenes and Tumor Suppressor Genes?

Oncogenes are genes that have the potential to cause cancer when they are mutated or activated. They stimulate cell growth and division and can cause cells to become cancerous when they are overactive. On the other hand, tumor suppressor genes are genes that normally function to prevent the development of cancer. They protect cells from becoming cancerous by inhibiting cell growth or causing cells to self-destruct if they are damaged or abnormal. Mutations in these genes can lead to the development of cancer since they are no longer able to carry out their protective function.

What Is the Role of Genetics in Cancer?

Cancer is not usually caused by an inherited genetic mutation. Only about 5-10% of all cancers are thought to be linked to an inherited genetic mutation. However, the role of genetics in cancer cannot be denied. Mutations in some genes, including those that regulate cell growth and division, can increase the likelihood of developing cancer. These mutations can be passed down from a parent to their children, increasing the chances of developing cancer if multiple family members have been affected.

Heredity and Cancer

When a parent has a genetic change or mutation that increases their risk of developing cancer, they can pass that gene to their children. This is known as hereditary cancer. In hereditary cancer, the risk of developing cancer can be significantly higher than the general population, and the cancer often develops earlier in life than usual.

What Are Some Genes That Increase the Risk of Developing Cancer?

Several genes are associated with a higher risk of developing certain types of cancer. These genes include:

  • Breast cancer genes 1 and 2 (BRCA1 and BRCA2) – which increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancer
  • PTEN gene – which increases the risk of breast, thyroid, and endometrial cancer
  • APC gene – which increases the risk of colon cancer

Does Having a Genetic Mutation Mean That Cancer Is Inevitable?

No, having an inherited genetic mutation does not mean that cancer is inevitable. It simply means that the risk of developing cancer is higher than that of the general population. In some cases, lifestyle modifications such as regular exercise, healthy eating habits, and avoiding tobacco and alcohol may help reduce the risk of developing cancer. Additionally, early detection and treatment can significantly increase the chances of survival.


In conclusion, the genetics behind cancer is complex, and not all cases of cancer are hereditary. However, for those who have a family history of cancer, it is important to speak with a healthcare professional and undergo genetic testing to determine if there is a genetic predisposition to cancer. Early detection and treatment can save lives, and it is crucial to be proactive when it comes to one’s health.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  • Q: Will I definitely get cancer if one of my parents had it?
    • A: No, not everyone who has a family history of cancer will develop cancer.
  • Q: Can lifestyle factors affect my likelihood of developing cancer?
    • A: Yes, lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise, smoking, and alcohol consumption can increase or decrease the risk of developing cancer.
  • Q: Can cancer be cured?
    • A: In some cases, cancer can be cured, especially if it is diagnosed and treated early.
  • Q: Are all cancers hereditary?
    • A: No, only about 5-10% of all cancers are thought to be hereditary.


1. American Cancer Society. (2021). Genetics and Cancer. Retrieved October 13, 2021, from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/genetics.html

2. National Cancer Institute. (2021). Inherited Cancer Syndromes. Retrieved October 13, 2021, from https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/genetics/inherited-risk

3. National Cancer Institute. (2021). Understanding Cancer Risk. Retrieved October 13, 2021, from https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/understanding

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