14 August 2009
Fear of hereditary cancer is often overestimated according to a survey by Cancerbackup, which has now merged with Macmillan Cancer Support.
The survey found that:
- Nine out of 10 people overestimate their risk of inherited cancers when someone in their family has had cancer, and
- 60 per cent of people think that family history is the biggest risk factor for cancer. In fact the biggest factors are increasing age and lifestyle choices such as smoking.
With so many people unnecessarily concerned about their possibility of getting inherited breast or ovarian cancer, Macmillan has launched OPERA ( O nline P ersonal E ducation and R isk A ssessment) - the first online interactive software program, which gives personalised information of a person's risk of inherited breast and ovarian cancer and where to get further advice.
The BRCA gene which can cause inherited breast and ovarian cancer is actually relatively rare and it causes fewer than ten per cent of cases of these cancers.
Dr Andrea Pithers, Genetic Information Project Manager at Macmillan Cancer Support, says:
"Many people worry unnecessarily that if a family member has had cancer they themselves will have a significantly higher than average chance of getting cancer.
"By simply typing in some details of your family medical history, OPERA can provide personalised information and advice on whether there might be an inherited genetic link and where to go for further information and support."
Mike Richards, the Government's National Cancer Director says:
"This is an important resource for all those who have concerns over breast and ovarian cancer in their family. For many it will provide reassurance that the risk is not as high as they feared. For others it will provide the information which prompts them to see their GP and get tested for the BRCA gene or to be referred appropriately for further genetic assessment."
Jan Buckle, 46, discovered that she is a carrier of the BRCA gene after her sister died of breast cancer and her mother was diagnosed with the same disease. She had her ovaries removed and a double mastectomy with reconstructive surgery as a preventative measure against developing cancer herself.
"OPERA will be very useful for families like mine, and those who are worried that inherited breast and ovarian cancer runs in their family. It was really important for me to know the risks and to find out if I had the gene so I could make informed decisions on how to prevent breast and ovarian cancer occurring. Knowing your risk from inherited breast or ovarian cancer and getting good advice on what to do is much better than burying your head in the sand and just hoping that you don't get breast cancer. I urge anyone who has any concerns to go on-line and try OPERA out for themselves."
Notes to Editors:
1. OPERA (the Online Personal Education and Risk Assessment tool) has been carefully piloted and tested to ensure that all information it provides is accurate and relevant to the individual using the program. People can access OPERA at www.macmillan.org.uk/genetics
2. OPERA will ask you a number of questions about your personal and family history of breast and ovarian cancer, before giving a tailored 'Personal Assessment' on the basis of the answers given. The program also gives details of websites and other sources of information and support which people can access.
3. In order to suspect a genetic link to cancer, generally the same type of cancer (or cancers that are known to run together such as breast and ovarian or bowel and womb cancers) would need to occur in more than one family member on the same side of the family. Many people wrongly believe that if several members of their family have had different types of cancer, it means that there is a strong chance of an inherited genetic link in the family.
4. The factors that increase the chance that there might be an inherited genetic link in a family are:
- the greater the number of relatives on the same side of the family with the same cancer; or cancers that are known to run together
- the younger they were at diagnosis, and
- the more closely related to you they are.
5. Figures are taken from a poll of 1000 people by Cancerbackup and Genes Reunited in July 2007. The survey found that people are worrying unnecessarily about cancer running in their family because they don't realise that only a small number of cancers are hereditary.
6. Cancerbackup and Macmillan merged on 1st April 2008. Macmillan Cancer Support improves the lives of people affected by cancer. We are a source of support: providing practical, medical, emotional and financial support.
7. For more information and for case studies, contact Macmillan press office on tel: 020 7840 7821