What percentage of cancers are hereditary in nature?
“There are two categories. The first is familial or cancer running in the family—gene flaws that can be transferred from one generation to another. About 10 per cent people belong to this. The other is when family members have cancer, but there is no genetic inheritance involved. It could be because a family is living in a coal mine area or near farms that are always full of insecticides and chemical fertilisers. Such families are exposed to so much environmental pollutants that they end up developing cancer. Another 10 per cent get this. Cancer does not develop in a day. It’s a complicated process that takes time. Your stress levels, your body physique (tall people are at slightly greater risk as they have more cells in their body in which dangerous mutations can occur), if you are obese, if you are a red meat eater, if you don’t take plenty of fibres and vegetables—all these factors play a significant role. Cancers of the bowel, breast, ovaries, colon-rectum, kidney, skin (melanoma), pancreas, prostate, eye (retinoblastoma) and thyroid are some that have a genetic component. It is possible to get genetic tests done to check if you are carrying any risk in your genes. However, I have seen people with a strong genetic history of cancer not getting the disease, even at age 70, because they lead a very healthy lifestyle.”
DR AMIT VERMA, Molecular oncologist and cancer geneticist, Max Cancer Care, Delhi