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Many people worry about getting cancer. Sometimes, people think they have a higher risk of developing it because there is a history of cancer in their family.
Genes carry the biological information we inherit from our parents. They affect the way our bodies grow, work and look. Many people think that because they have one or two relatives with cancer, this means a cancer gene is present in their family. But this is not usually the case. It’s only likely that a cancer gene is present in your family if:
If any of these apply to your family and you’re worried about your own risk of developing cancer, you may want to talk to your GP. If they think there’s a chance you may have an increased risk of developing cancer because of your family history, they will refer you to a genetic counsellor, family cancer clinic or a cancer specialist.
People with a strong family history of some cancers (bowel| or breast| cancers) are invited to have more regular screening than people who don’t seem at increased risk.
Genetic testing| is usually available for breast, ovarian and bowel cancer, as well as for some other cancers, such as cancers of the endocrine glands. Genetic testing is normally only possible if you have a relative with one of these cancers who is willing to be tested first.
We have specific information which might be helpful if you are worried about:
A common reaction to serious illness in the family, or to bereavement, is to feel more vulnerable to the same disease. If you can’t stop worrying, you may find it helpful to speak to a counsellor. You can ask your GP for details of a local counselling service, or call our cancer support specialists|.
The mental health charity MIND| has published a leaflet called How to Stop Worrying which you can order from their website.
If you’re worried about the occurrence of ovarian or breast cancer in your family and whether there might be an inherited genetic link, you can assess your risk using OPERA|, our interactive program. OPERA (Online Personal Education and Risk Assessment) provides personalised information and support about your inherited risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
Content last reviewed: 1 January 2010
Next planned review: 2013
For answers, support or just a chat, call the Macmillan Support Line free (Monday to Friday, 9am-8pm)
If you have any questions about cancer, need support or just want someone to talk to, ask Macmillan.
If you have any questions about Macmillan we would love to hear from you| .
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© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
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