Genetics and Lung Cancer: What Should I Tell My Children?

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Topics include: Understanding and Living Well

Dr. Scott Antonia and Dr. David Carbone discuss the oddity of lung cancer being hereditary, but not contagious or infectious. So how then does lung cancer occur? The answer seems to be genetic predisposition, which is an increased likelihood of developing a particular disease based on a person's genetic makeup. A genetic predisposition results from specific genetic variations that are often inherited from a parent. In some families, cancer will become a reality because of general predisposition, which puts patients at a higher risk, yet being proactive gives many of those patients hope.

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Transcript

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s 

Andrew Schorr:

Carol, you’ve got a question for us?

Carol Preston:   

So coming from a family of five, which might be fairly close to Dr. Carbone’s situation, is there any explanation as to why four out of five experienced lung cancer?

All three siblings have had or now have lung cancer. And what direction should we give our children?  This is from a gentleman named Peter.  And I think Dr. Antonia had talked about the issue of this is not a contagious disease. This is not infectious.  But this is pretty frightening. So who would like to field that?

Andrew Schorr:                  

Scott, do you want to tackle that one? 

Dr. Antonia:        

There is evidence that there is a bit of a genetic predisposition [an increased likelihood of developing a particular disease based on a person's genetic makeup] in families to develop lung cancer. But it’s quite small. And so I hear this a lot. What do my children have to do? What did I pass on to my children? What sort of gene testing should they get? What sort of X-rays should they get, etc., etc.?  And the perspective is it’s small, and there is no gene testing that we do.

The only thing to do is make sure that they don’t smoke.  David, you know about this better than me 

Dr. Carbone:       

So in my practice, I’ve now identified three families that are similar to your situation who do have an inherited gene.  It turns out that very rarely; people inherit mutations in this same EGFR (Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor) gene that we were talking about earlier that the tumor mutates when it becomes a cancer.

But 1 in 5,000 patients, it’s very rare, to have a gene that, when they inherit from their parents a mutated EGFR, and they have a very high risk of lung cancer. And so we’re doing a study now where we’re studying families of these patients. And, in fact, a daughter of one of my patients with this inherited mutation was diagnosed as having this gene.

And we did a CT scan on her. And even though as a non-smoker 40-year-old, she had a 3 centimeter lung tumor, which we took out that she had no idea she had. So while it’s the vast minority of cases, I think, if you do have multiple family members, it’s at least worth seeing a genetic counselor.  Other inherited syndromes are associated with increased risk of lung cancer as well.

So four out of five is a pretty high number. But lung cancer is common. So you could have that just by chance.

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you. 

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Page last updated on May 26, 2015