Inherited genes and cancer types

Some people have inherited gene faults that increase their risk of developing particular types of cancer. Some gene faults can increase the risk of more than one type of cancer.

If a close member of your family has had one or more of the types of cancer mentioned below you may like to read the relevant information.

Tests are available for some gene faults but not all of them.

Read about gene faults that can be tested for here.

Bowel cancer is the 4th most common type of cancer in the UK. Around 6 in 100 men (6%) and 5 in 100 women (5%) will develop bowel cancer during their lifetime. Some inherited genes can increase the risk of developing bowel cancer and cause the conditions mentioned here. Around 1 in 20 cases of bowel cancer (5%) occur in people who have other family members with bowel cancer.

Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)

FAP is caused by a fault in the APC gene. It is a rare disease that causes 1 in 100 bowel cancers (1%). A faulty APC gene can cause hundreds of non cancerous (benign) growths called polyps to develop in the bowel at a young age. Over time, these polyps can develop into a cancer. The average age of bowel cancer in people with FAP is 35 years. Some people can develop FAP without any history of bowel cancer in their family. This means that the gene fault has happened for the first time in that person.

MYH associated polyposis (MAP)

MAP is caused by faults in the MYH gene. It is much rarer than FAP (familial adenomatous polyposis). To have MAP, a person needs to have 2 faulty copies of the MYH gene, 1 from each parent. People with MAP develop polyps and are likely to develop bowel cancer under the age of 50.

Lynch syndrome

Lynch syndrome is also called hereditary non polyposis colon cancer (HNPCC). It is caused by faults in the MLH1, MSH2, MSH6 and PMS2 genes. Lynch syndrome is rare and accounts for between 2 and 5 out of every 100 bowel cancers (2 to 5%). Between 70 and 90 out of 100 people with Lynch syndrome (70 to 90%) develop bowel cancer. Most of the bowel cancers occur under the age of 50.

People with Lynch syndrome also have an increased risk of developing other cancers including womb and ovarian cancer in women. Other cancers that Lynch syndrome may cause include stomach, small bowel and gallbladder. These are all rare and most people with Lynch syndrome do not develop these other cancers.

Peutz Jeghers syndrome (PJS)

PJS is linked to a gene fault called STK11. Peutz Jeghers syndrome Open a glossary item increases the risk of bowel cancer as well as other types of cancer. If someone has PJS, the skin around the mouth, nostrils, eyes, and near the back passage may be darker than surrounding skin. PJS is very rare so it is difficult to find any reliable figures about how many bowel cancers it may cause.

Juvenile Polyposis Syndrome (JPS)

JPS is linked to the BMPR1A and SMAD4 genes. A fault in one of these genes can cause polyps in the stomach and small bowel. Juvenile is the name of the type of polyp and is not related to the age at which the polyps develop. It is not clear how much JPS increases the risk of developing bowel cancer.

Could I be at higher risk?

If a close member of your family has had bowel or womb cancer and you are worried that you may be at higher risk, see your GP. Your GP can check your family history and refer you to a genetic clinic if necessary.

If you are at higher risk

If you have one of the inherited bowel conditions or you are known to have a gene fault that increases bowel cancer risk, your specialist will suggest that you have regular bowel screening.

Find out about screening for people at high risk of bowel cancer.

Breast cancer is a common cancer and 1 in 8 women develop it during their lifetime in the UK. But fewer than 3 out of every 100 breast cancers (3%) are caused by an inherited faulty gene. The genes that increase the risk of breast cancer and can be tested for are BRCA1, BRCA2, TP53 and PTEN. Occasionally when someone who has had breast cancer has a test for the BRCA genes the test can show changes in another gene such as CHEK2. Individual tests for these other genes are not yet available.

BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes

Faulty BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are rare. Between 45 and 90 women out of 100 (45 to 90%) with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene fault develop breast cancer during their lifetime. These genes also increase the risk of ovarian cancer and BRCA2 increases the risk of male breast cancer and prostate cancer.

TP53 and PTEN

Faults in TP53 and PTEN are even rarer than BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations. The TP53 gene normally controls when a cell divides. It is a type of tumour suppressor gene. It causes breast cancer as part of a rare cancer syndrome called Li Fraumeni syndrome. It causes less than 1 in 100 (1%) of all breast cancers diagnosed. PTEN is the gene fault that causes a rare condition called Cowden syndrome Open a glossary item. It increases the risk of breast cancer.

Other genes and breast cancer

A number of other gene faults are linked to a higher risk of breast cancer. Women can have one or more of these gene changes. Finding the changes has helped scientists to understand much more about how breast cancer develops. But the changes still can't tell us who will definitely get breast cancer and who won't. It may take a few years before tests are developed for these other gene changes.

Could I be at higher risk?

If a close member of your family has had breast or ovarian cancer and you are worried that you may be at higher risk, see your GP. Your GP can check your family history and refer you to a genetic clinic if necessary.

Read about breast cancer genes and gene testing.

If you are at higher risk

If you are known to have a gene that increases your breast cancer risk, your specialist will suggest that you have regular screening or treatments to reduce your risk. Depending on your age and how high your risk is you may consider having risk reducing breast surgery.

Read about screening and treatment for women at higher risk of breast cancer.

Kidney cancer is the 8th most common cancer in the UK. 1 in 56 men and 1 in 90 women develop it in the UK during their lifetime.

We know that if a person has a family history of kidney cancer their risk is increased. This may be because of a shared way of life or more rarely because of inherited faulty genes. Researchers are looking into which genes may increase the risk of developing kidney cancer. We know that there are a number of inherited conditions that increase the risk of developing it. These conditions are very rare and together only account for about 2 in 100 kidney cancers (2%). They include the conditions below.

Von Hippel Lindau (VHL) syndrome

Von Hippel Lindau syndrome Open a glossary item is caused by faults in the VHL gene. It is a rare inherited condition affecting about 3 in 100,000 people. Kidney cysts are common in VHL syndrome. These cysts do not usually affect how the kidney works, but sometimes a type of kidney cancer called clear cell renal cell cancer (CCRCC) can develop in a cyst. 4 out of 10 people (40%) with VHL syndrome develop CCRCC. People who carry the gene fault also have an increased risk of developing other rare cancers in the brain, spine, pancreas, eyes and inner ear.

Tuberous sclerosis (TS)

Tuberous sclerosis Open a glossary item is caused by faults in the TSC1 and TSC2 genes. About 1 in 10,000 people have it. It can cause skin, brain and heart problems, as well as kidney disease. People with TS have an increased risk of kidney cysts and papillary kidney cancer. About 1 in 3 cases of TS (33%) are inherited. In the other 2 out of 3 cases (66%) it occurs as a new gene change in that person.

Birt Hogg Dube syndrome (BHDS)

Birt Hogg Dube syndrome Open a glossary item is caused by faults in the FLCN gene (also known as BHD). People with BHDS develop multiple benign skin tumours (fibrofolliculomas) on the face, neck and upper body. People with BHDS are at increased risk of kidney cancer. It is a very rare condition and the number of people and families with BHDS is not known.

Isolated hereditary papillary renal cell cancer (HPRCC)

HPRCC is caused by faults in the MET gene. It is a very rare condition and the number of people with HPRCC is unknown. Doctors may suspect it in families when several family members have papillary renal cell carcinoma.

Hereditary leiomyomatosis and renal carcinoma (HLRCC)

HLRCC is caused by faults in the FH gene. People with HLRCC have benign skin tumours (cutaneous leiomyomata), fibroids in the womb (uterine leiomyomata), and may have kidney cancer. Papillary renal cancer is the most common kidney cancer type in HLRCC, but other types, such as tubulo papillary renal cell cancer and collecting duct renal cell cancer, can develop. It is a very rare condition and the number of people with HLRCC is not known.

Could I be at higher risk?

If a close member of your family has had kidney cancer and you are worried that you may be at higher risk, see your GP. Your GP can check your family history and refer you to a genetic clinic if necessary.

Read about testing for cancer risk genes.

Melanoma is a type of cancer that usually occurs in the skin. In the UK, around 13,300 people are diagnosed with melanoma each year. The main cause of melanoma is too much exposure to ultraviolet light, from sunlight or from artificial sources such as sun beds. About 1 in 10 people (10%) who have melanoma have a strong family history of the disease. People with a family history of melanoma are at increased risk.

Familial atypical multiple mole melanoma syndrome (FAMMM)

Researchers have found that familial atypical multiple mole melanoma syndrome (FAMMM) increases the risk of developing melanoma. People who have FAMMM have more than 50 moles and at least one close relative has been diagnosed with a melanoma. A close relative is a parent, brother, sister, child, aunt, uncle or grandparent. Some families with FAMMM are also at a higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

CDKN2A

The gene CDKN2A is linked to familial cases of melanoma. But not everyone who has a CDKN2A gene fault develops melanoma. Even if someone is found to have a faulty CDKN2A gene they may not go on to develop melanoma. So, although there is a test for the CDKN2A gene it is not clear how useful this is.

Research suggests that the risk of melanoma linked to the CDKN2A fault varies depending on where in the world someone lives. For example, people who live in Australia have a higher risk than those in the UK. Researchers think that factors such as other gene changes or environmental factors may also change the amount that someone's risk is increased by having a faulty CDKN2A gene.

Research is continuing to try to find out about other genes that may cause melanoma.

If you have a family history of melanoma

If close members of your family have had melanoma and you are worried that you may be at higher risk, see your GP. Your GP can check your family history and refer you to a genetic clinic if necessary.

Read about screening for people at higher risk of melanoma.

On average, around 2 out of every 100 women in the UK (2%) will develop ovarian cancer during their lifetime . The faulty genes that are known to increase the risk of ovarian cancer and can be tested for are BRCA1, BRCA2, and the genes that cause Lynch syndrome.

BRCA1

Of all women with a faulty BRCA1 gene, between 40 and 60 out of 100 (40 to 60%) will develop ovarian cancer at some point in their lives. A BRCA1 gene fault also increases the risk of breast cancer.

BRCA2

Between 10 and 30 out of 100 women with a faulty BRCA2 gene (10 to 30%) will develop ovarian cancer at some point. A BRCA2 gene fault also increases the risk of breast cancer (in men and women) and prostate cancer.

Lynch syndrome (HNPCC)

Lynch syndrome is also called HNPCC (hereditary non polyposis colorectal cancer). The faulty genes that cause it are MLH1, MSH2, MSH6 and PMS2. Lynch syndrome is more commonly linked to bowel cancer but can also increase the risk of ovarian cancer. Between 10 and 15 out of 100 women (10 to 15%) with Lynch syndrome will develop ovarian cancer. Researchers think that around 2 out of every 100 ovarian cancers diagnosed (2%) are linked to Lynch syndrome.

Could I be at higher risk?

If close members of your family have had ovarian, breast or bowel cancer at a young age and you are worried that you may be at higher risk, see your GP. Your GP can check your family history and refer you to a genetic clinic if necessary.

If you have a faulty gene

If you have a faulty gene that increases the risk of ovarian cancer, what happens next will depend on which gene you have. Your specialist may suggest regular screening. Researchers are looking into the best way to do this. Or, depending on your age and whether you’ve had all the children you want to have, you may choose to have surgery to remove your ovaries and fallopian tubes.

Read about screening and treatment for women at high risk of ovarian cancer.

In the UK, around 1 to 2 in 100 people (1 to 2%) will develop pancreatic cancer at some point in their lifetime. Researchers estimate that a cancer gene fault causes about 10 in 100 pancreatic cancers (10%). Although they can see that it can run in families, scientists haven’t found a single gene fault that causes this, so there isn’t a test at the moment.

Cancer of the pancreas can also develop as part of one of the family cancer syndromes, when different types of cancer occur in the same family. The genes mentioned here can increase the risk of other types of cancer as well as pancreatic cancer.

Tests are available for

  • The faulty BRCA2 gene, which increases the risk of breast, ovarian and prostate cancer
  • The STK11 gene fault, which causes Peutz-Jeghers syndrome Open a glossary item and increases the risk of bowel and other cancers
  • The MLH1, MSH2, MSH6 and PMS2 gene faults, which cause Lynch syndrome (also called Hereditary non polyposis colorectal cancer or HNPCC) – they increase the risk of bowel, womb and ovarian cancer
  • The FAP gene fault that causes familial adenomatous polyposis Open a glossary item and increases the risk of bowel cancer
  • The MEN1 gene fault that causes multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 Open a glossary item (MEN1) – it increases the risk of thyroid cancer, and cancers of the parathyroid glands Open a glossary itempituitary gland Open a glossary item, bowel, stomach, and adrenal glands Open a glossary item

Could I be at higher risk?

If close members of your family have had pancreatic cancer and you are worried that you may be at higher risk, see your GP. Your GP can check your family history and refer you to a genetic clinic if necessary.

Researchers are looking into the best way of monitoring people with a strong family history of pancreatic cancer. If your doctor thinks you have a strong family history, you may be able to have regular screening as part of a research project.

Read about screening for people at higher risk of pancreatic cancer.

Prostate cancer is now the most common cancer in men and it affects more than 10 in 100 men in the UK (more than 10%). It is most common over the age of 70. Scientists have found a number of genes that increase the risk of prostate cancer. At the moment there is only a test available for the BRCA2 gene. This gene is more commonly linked to breast and ovarian cancer.

BRCA2 gene and prostate cancer

Between 20 and 25 out of 100 men (20 to 25%) who carry a faulty BRCA2 gene develop prostate cancer. But it is rare under the age of 45.

BRCA1 gene and prostate cancer

Researchers have looked into the BRCA1 gene, which increases the risk of breast and ovarian cancer. The situation with prostate cancer is less clear and some studies have found that it doesn’t significantly increase the risk of prostate cancer. We need more research to find out whether it does increase the risk.

Could I be at higher risk?

If close members of your family have had prostate cancer and you are worried that you may be at higher risk, see your GP. Your GP can check your family history and refer you to a genetic clinic if necessary.

If you have a faulty gene

If you have a gene test and a faulty gene is found, what happens next depends on which gene is faulty.

Read about screening for men at higher risk of prostate cancer.

A trial is looking at men who have an increased risk of developing prostate cancer because they have faulty BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. The trial is looking at whether a blood test for a protein called prostate specific antigen (PSA), combined with a biopsy, is a good way of picking up prostate cancer early in these men. It is called the IMPACT study.

You can find out about the IMPACT trial.

Retinoblastoma is a rare cancer that develops in young children. Between 40 and 50 children get retinoblastoma every year in the UK. Most cases occur before the age of 5 years. This cancer affects the part of the eye called the retina that detects light and colour.

About 40 out of 100 children who develop retinoblastoma (40%) have inherited a faulty gene called RB1. The cause of the other 60 out of 100 (60%) cases is unknown.

Find out about retinoblastoma.

A test is available for the RB1 gene.

If you have a family history of retinoblastoma

A brother or sister or a child of someone with retinoblastoma (Rb) should have regular eye checks under general anaesthetic until they are 5, unless they have had a gene test that shows they do not have the familial RB gene fault. Doctors will advise whether gene testing is helpful depending on the type of retinoblastoma the person has and their family history.

Read about genetic testing for cancer risk.

About 2,100 people are diagnosed with thyroid cancer each year in the UK. There are a number of different types of thyroid cancer.

Papillary thyroid cancer

Papillary thyroid cancer is the most common type and this type is rarely caused by an inherited faulty gene.

Thyroid cancer and related syndromes

Between 5 in 100 and 20 in 100 thyroid cancers (5 to 20%) are medullary thyroid cancers. About 25 out of 100 of these (25%) are caused by an inherited faulty RET gene.

Faulty genes may cause medullary thyroid cancer as part of rare syndromes called multiple endocrine neoplasia Open a glossary itemor MEN for short. The types of MEN that cause thyroid cancer are MEN2a and MEN2b.

People with MEN2a are also at higher risk of developing a rare type of cancer of the adrenal gland Open a glossary itemand overactive parathyroid glands Open a glossary item. People with MEN2b are at higher risk of getting adrenal cancer and small growths on their tongue and lips.

If 4 or more members of a family have a medullary thyroid cancer but don’t have any other cancer or a condition that may be linked to MEN, doctors usually diagnose it as familial medullary thyroid cancer (FMTC for short).

Read about MEN and thyroid cancer in our information about thyroid cancer risks and causes.

Could I be at higher risk?

If close members of your family have had thyroid cancer and you are worried that you may be at higher risk, see your GP. Your GP can check your family history and refer you to a genetic clinic if necessary.

Find out about screening for people at higher risk of thyroid cancer.

If a close relative has been diagnosed with medullary thyroid cancer you may be able to have a gene test to see if you have the abnormal RET gene.

Read about genetic testing for cancer risk.

About 2 in 100 women (2%) in the general population will develop womb cancer. Between 40 and 60 out of 100 women (40 to 60%) with a rare condition called Lynch syndrome Open a glossary item (also called HNPCC) will get womb cancer. Lynch syndrome is caused by faults in the MLH1, MSH2, MSH6 and PMS2 genes. It also increases the risk of developing a number of other cancers, including bowel and ovarian cancer.

Another gene that increases the risk of womb cancer is a faulty PTEN gene. This gene is faulty as part of a rare condition called Cowden syndrome Open a glossary item.

Could I be at higher risk?

If close members of your family have had womb cancer, bowel cancer or ovarian cancer, and you are worried that you may be at higher risk, see your GP. Your GP can check your family history and refer you to a genetic clinic if necessary.

You can read our information about screening for women at high risk of womb cancer.

If you think you might have an inherited cancer gene

If you think there may be a cancer gene fault in your family, you need to go to your GP. Your GP will talk to you about your family history. If they think you may have a strong family history of cancer they will refer you to a genetic clinic. There you will see a genetics counsellor who can begin to look into the number of cancer cases in your family.

Last reviewed

Rate this page:

Currently rated: 5 out of 5 based on 1 vote
Thank you!
We've recently made some changes to the site, tell us what you think

Find a clinical trial

Search our clinical trials database for all cancer trials and studies recruiting in the UK

Cancer Chat forum

Refer your patients to our forum to talk to other people affected by cancer

Nurse helpline

0808 800 4040

Questions about cancer? Call freephone or email us

Share this page