Family history may have role in brain cancer

In collaboration with the Press Association

US and Israeli scientists have found evidence that a family history of brain cancer may increase a person's chances of developing the disease.

Researchers at the University of Utah and Tel Aviv University analysed the medical records of nearly 1,500 people from Utah and tracked back for between three and ten generations of family members.

Their findings are published in the journal Neurology.

They found that a family history of brain tumours - including the aggressive glioblastoma - increases a person's likelihood of developing the disease, sometimes as much as fourfold.

Dr Deborah Blumenthal, co-director of Tel Aviv University's Neuro-oncology Service and an affiliate associate professor at the University of Utah Huntsman Cancer Institute, said that the study is unique as it was able to track genealogy records back so far.

She recommended that people with a family history of brain cancer should report this to their family doctor at routine medical checks.

"Until now, brain tumours were not thought to be an inheritable disease," said Dr Blumenthal. "A few earlier studies did find an increased risk in immediate relatives, but in such cases it is hard to distinguish between the effects of a shared environment and heredity."

However, Dr Blumenthal emphasised that the risks of having a hereditary brain tumour are still "very low" as the majority of primary brain tumours are not inheritable.

Less than five per cent of rare primary brain tumours are hereditary and the risk of inheriting genes that may increase the risk of a brain tumour is therefore low.

She explained: "Reporting to your family doctor that brain cancer runs in the family just gives a more comprehensive picture of your medical history. It may provide doctors and family members with useful information."

The researchers now hope to use blood and tissue samples from high-risk families to try to identify genes associated with brain tumours so that, in future, it may be possible to screen people with a family history of the disease and identify those whose genes place them at greater risk.

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