Hereditary Cancer Syndromes

What are Hereditary Cancer syndromes?

You can't inherit cancer but you can inherit an increased risk of cancer.

Hereditary syndromes are causes by germline mutations (spelling errors also known as pathogenic variants) in important genes. Germline mutations are present at birth and can be passed from a mother or a father to their child via the egg or the sperm. That is why they are called hereditary or familial cancer syndromes.

Hereditary cancer syndromes usually involve mutations in genes responsible for cell growth, DNA repair or quality assurance. These are very important genes and when they aren't working properly the risk of cancer is significantly increased and it may occur at a young age.

They are called syndromes because groups of cancers or problems may occur together and will be seen to be running in a family, affecting parents, children and cousins. In some families, the syndrome can be traced back over many generations.

Some Hereditary Cancer syndromes have a strong phenotype (a "look"), such as rare types of skin lesions. For others, we rely on the type of cancer, age of onset or just the number of cancers in a family

If you are concerned about your family’s history of cancer, download our Family History Questionnaire and discuss it with your doctor. Knowing about your risk means you can do something about it.

You can read more about Genes and Hereditary Cancer syndromes under our Genes tab. Under each syndrome, click the "read more" link for a more in-depth description of what the increased risks may be, how to reduce that risk and also for a list of specific support groups or other resources.