Hereditary Cancer

Hereditary cancer syndromes are caused by mutations (changes) in genes that are passed from parent to child. These changes cause a higher-than-average chance to develop cancer1.

Hereditary cancer syndromes may cause specific patterns of cancer within a family, such as multiple family members with the same type of cancer or cancer at younger ages. Some cancers known to be associated with these genes are breast, ovarian, endometrial, and colorectal cancer. Overall, 5-10% of all cancers are thought to be related to a hereditary cancer syndrome1.

What Cancers may be Hereditary?

  • Breast cancer: Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer to affect women, with about 12% receiving this diagnosis in their lifetime2. While the majority of breast cancer is sporadic, about 5-10% of breast cancer is hereditary3, meaning it is caused by an inherited mutation (change) in one of several genes.
  • Hereditary GYN cancers: Ovarian and endometrial (uterine) cancers are among the most common cancer types affecting women. Approximately 1.3% of women in the US will develop ovarian cancer4. Depending on the specific type of ovarian cancer a woman has, anywhere from 13-25% can be hereditary. Endometrial cancer is more common but less likely to be hereditary, with only 2-3% felt to be explained by an inherited mutation.

Genetic Testing for Hereditary Cancer Syndromes

Genetic testing for hereditary cancer can help clarify your risk of developing cancer(s). Your healthcare provider may recommend genetic testing for a hereditary cancer syndrome if you have been diagnosed with cancer at an early age, or if certain cancers run in your family. A genetic counselor can help determine based on your personal and family history of cancer, which test, if any, would be most suitable for you and your family.


  1. National Institutes of Health. Accessed April 22, 2019.
  2. Accessed August 29, 2019.
  3. Apostolou, P., Fostira, F. Hereditary breast cancer: The era of new susceptibility genes. Biomed Res Int. 2013;2013:747318. doi:10.1155/2013/747318,reference%20BRCA1%20and%20BRCA2%20genes.
  4. National Institutes of Health. Accessed August 29, 2019.