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To understand these concepts, it is useful to know what each of the terms means:

Genetic: relating to genetics or the origin of things. Genetics is that part of biology that deals with heredity and what is related to it.

Familial: occurring in a family.

Hereditary: passing from parents to children.

The term genetic cancer is incorrect and ambiguous in this context since 100% of cancers are of genetic origin, since in all of them there is an alteration in the cell’s DNA, that is to say, in all of them there is an alteration in some gene of the cell.

There is the possibility of several cases of cancer appearing in the same family, so we would speak of familial cancer, but not all of them will be hereditary because the susceptibility to cancer is not transmitted from parents to children in all of them. Only 5 to 10% of cancers are hereditary with an identified genetic link, a gene that is transmitted. The most accurate term to define this area of expertise is hereditary cancer.

It can be said that everything hereditary is genetic, but not everything genetic is hereditary and everything hereditary is familial, but not everything familial is hereditary.


What does it mean to inherit susceptibility to cancer?
Today we know that there is a clear familial aggregation in some types of cancer, such as colon, breast or ovarian cancer, and that the identification of these families and the early detection of patients at risk of suffering it can be decisive in their survival.

Inheriting an alteration in a cancer susceptibility gene means living with a high probability of developing the disease, often more than once, and generally at an early age. And also living with other family members, parents, children or siblings, who go through identical circumstances.

There are 200 different clinical entities in which susceptibility to cancer is inherited, all of which have an enormous personal and familial impact. Although most of them are rare, together they represent a substantial part, around 5% of all cancers, so their population impact is also important.

The identification of these individuals or families and their referral to specialized units helps to alleviate a fundamental part of the suffering and despair of the families, while avoiding unnecessary health care costs, restricting follow-up measures only to those who need them.


General criteria for suspicion of hereditary predisposition to cancer
1. Family history of the same tumor. The same tumor, or related tumors, are repeated in the same branch of the family.

2. Diagnosis at an early age. The tumor is diagnosed at an unusual age, much earlier than usual for that tumor.

3. Multiple primary tumors. The same patient is diagnosed with several tumors.

4. Bilateral or multifocal involvement. In double organs, such as the breast, the patient is diagnosed with cancer in both breasts.

5. High incidence of cancer in the family. A large number of direct family members (parents, children, siblings) have been diagnosed with cancer.

6. Occurrence of several tumors that are associated with specific hereditary cancer syndromes (colon, endometrial, central nervous system).

7. Evidence of autosomal dominant transmission. The same tumor occurs generation after generation.


World Cancer Day is celebrated on February 4.

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