If you are worried about cancer in your family

It is important to remember that cancer is very common. Most of us have relatives who have had cancer. This does not always mean there is a cancer gene in your family, or that you have a much higher risk of developing cancer.

If you are worried about the pattern of cancer in your family, talk to your GP. They will ask you about any close blood relatives who have had cancer. Close blood relatives are your parents, brothers, sisters, children, aunts, uncles and grandparents. People you are related to by marriage are not blood relatives.

Your GP will use the information about your family to assess your risk of cancer. If your GP thinks there is a chance that cancer may run in your family, they can refer you to a genetics specialist. This could be in a family cancer clinic or a cancer genetics clinic.

Katie Snape, Consultant Cancer Geneticist, explains family and cancer risk.

Family and cancer risk

Consultant Cancer Geneticist, Katie Snape, explains how cancer can run in families.

About our cancer information videos

Family and cancer risk

Consultant Cancer Geneticist, Katie Snape, explains how cancer can run in families.

About our cancer information videos

When cancer may run in a family

Signs that your family may have an inherited cancer gene include the following:

  • Two or more close blood relatives on the same side of the family had the same type of cancer.
  • Certain groups of cancers have affected one side of the family.
  • A close relative has had more than one primary cancer. This means they have had cancer twice, not that one cancer has spread to another part of the body.
  • Members of your family have had cancer at an unusually young age.
  • You have a family history of certain cancers and you are from an Eastern European or Ashkenazi Jewish (Eastern European Jewish) background. Some inherited cancer genes are more common in these ethnic groups.

Back to Family history and genetics

Cancer and genes

Gene changes (mutations) in a cell may mean the cell stops working normally. This can eventually cause cancer to develop.

Genetic testing

You will only be offered genetic testing if your family history suggests you may have inherited a cancer gene.