Large study reveals increased cancer risks associated with family history of the disease

July 24, 2013

A family history of cancer increases the risk of other members of the family developing not only the same cancer (known as a concordant cancer) but also a different (discordant) cancer, according to a large study of 23,000 people in Italy and Switzerland.

The research, published in the leading cancer journal Annals of Oncology [1] today (Thursday), provides a comprehensive picture of the risk of developing various different types of cancer in families where there is a history of the disease, and is one of the few large studies of this kind that takes into account other important factors, such as individual characteristics and lifestyles, that could affect the degree of risk as well.

Results from the study supported known associations, such as the increased risk of developing the same cancer as a close relative, and the 1.5-fold increased risk of breast cancer in women with a history of colorectal cancer in the family. However, the study also found a 3.3-fold increased risk of developing oral and pharyngeal cancer among people who had a first-degree relative with cancer of the larynx, and a four-fold increased risk of cancer of the gullet (oesophageal cancer) where a first-degree relative had oral or pharyngeal cancer. If a first-degree relative had breast cancer, female family members had a 2.3-fold increased risk of ovarian cancer. Family members had a 3.4-fold increased risk of if a first-degree relative had .

The researchers from Italy, Switzerland and France looked at 12,000 cases of cancer occurring in 13 different cancer sites (mouth and , nasopharynx, oesophagus, stomach, colorectum, liver, pancreas, larynx, breast, womb, ovaries, prostate and kidneys) between 1991 and 2009. They matched them with 11,000 people without cancer, and collected information on any cancer in the family, particularly in a first-degree relative, age at diagnosis, sociodemographic characteristics, body shape, lifestyle habits such as smoking and , diet, personal medical history, including menstrual and reproductive factors, and use of oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy.

Dr Eva Negri, head of the Laboratory of Epidemiologic Methods at the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research, Milan, Italy, said: "Besides confirming and quantifying the well-known excess risks of people developing the same cancer as their first-degree relative, we have identified increased risks for developing a number of different cancers. We have also found that if a patient was diagnosed with certain cancers when they were younger than 60, the risks of a discordant cancer developing in family members were greater.

"A major strength of our study is that we were able to adjust our analyses for tobacco, alcohol and a number of other lifestyle habits, which most previous studies have not been able to do."

Dr Negri said that some of the associations between discordant cancers were probably due to shared environmental factors such as family habits of smoking and drinking. However, she said: "Our results point to several potential cancer syndromes that appear among close relatives and that indicate the presence of genetic factors influencing multiple cancer sites. These findings may help researchers and clinicians to focus on the identification of additional genetic causes of selected cancers and on optimizing screening and diagnosis, particularly in people with a family history of cancer at a young age."

She said that the large numbers of patients in the study enabled the researchers to identify associations even for some rare cancers.

"For some rare cancers, a weak association with a different, common cancer can, on a population level, reveal a higher attributable risk than a strong association with the risk of developing the same cancer. For example, for ovarian cancer we found that a family history of had a stronger attributable risk of ovarian cancer than the far rarer, albeit stronger, association with family history of ."

The researchers are still collecting data on the people they are studying, including biological material, which could help them to identify genetic factors that could be playing a role in the increased risk for people with a of . They also plan to investigate whether some well-recognised risk factors are involved in increasing the risk to family members of developing concordant or discordant cancers, and if so, to what extent.

Explore further: Sex hormones linked to breast cancer risk in women under 50

More information: Annals of Oncology. doi:10.1093/annonc/mdt280

Related Stories

Sex hormones linked to breast cancer risk in women under 50

July 24, 2013
Premenopausal women with high levels of sex hormones in their blood have an increased risk of breast cancer, an Oxford University study suggests, though further research is needed to understand this link.

Breast cancer type linked to paternal cancer

November 28, 2011
The risk of breast cancer is increased by genetic and lifestyle factors such as the inherited BRCA2 gene, age of having first child, or use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT). New research published in BioMed Central's ...

Five genetic variations increase risk of ovarian cancer

March 27, 2013
An international research collaboration has found five new regions of the human genome that are linked to increased risks for developing ovarian cancer. Duke Medicine researchers played a leading role analyzing genetic information ...

Cancer diagnosis later in life poses significant risk to offspring

December 20, 2012
Relatives of family members diagnosed with cancer are still at risk of the disease even if the diagnosis came at an older age, suggests a paper published on BMJ website today.

Study reveals new dietary risk factors for colorectal cancer

July 15, 2013
Fizzy drinks, cakes, biscuits, crisps and desserts have all been identified as risk factors for bowel cancer, according to new research.

Long term night shifts linked to doubling of breast cancer risk

July 1, 2013
Shift work has been suggested as a risk factor for breast cancer, but there has been some doubt about the strength of the findings, largely because of issues around the assessment of exposure and the failure to capture the ...

Recommended for you

Zebrafish larvae could be used as 'avatars' to optimize personalized treatment of cancer

August 21, 2017
Portuguese scientists have for the first time shown that the larvae of a tiny fish could one day become the preferred model for predicting, in advance, the response of human malignant tumors to the various therapeutic drugs ...

Scientists discover vitamin C regulates stem cell function, curbs leukemia development

August 21, 2017
Not much is known about stem cell metabolism, but a new study from the Children's Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern (CRI) has found that stem cells take up unusually high levels of vitamin C, which then ...

Searching for the 'signature' causes of BRCAness in breast cancer

August 21, 2017
Breast cancer cells with defects in the DNA damage repair-genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 have a mutational signature (a pattern of base swaps—e.g., Ts for Gs, Cs for As—throughout a genome) known in cancer genomics as "Signature ...

How a non-coding RNA encourages cancer growth and metastasis

August 21, 2017
A mechanism that pushes a certain gene to produce a non-coding form of RNA instead of its protein-coding alternative can promote the growth of cancer, report researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) ...

Spaser can detect, kill circulating tumor cells to prevent cancer metastases, study finds

August 21, 2017
A nanolaser known as the spaser can serve as a super-bright, water-soluble, biocompatible probe capable of finding metastasized cancer cells in the blood stream and then killing these cells, according to a new research study.

Comprehensive genomic analysis offers insights into causes of Wilms tumor development

August 21, 2017
A comprehensive genomic analysis of Wilms tumor - the most common kidney cancer in children - found genetic mutations involving a large number of genes that fall into two major categories. These categories involve cellular ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.