29 Dec
2010

Some early cancer theorists believed that we inherit a genetic predisposition toward certain forms of cancer. Recent research indicates that a gene for breast cancer exists. To date, however, the research in this area remains inconclusive. Although a rare form of eye cancer does appear to be passed genetically from mother to child, most cancers are not genetically linked. It is possible that we can inherit a tendency toward a cancer-prone, weak immune system or, conversely, that we can inherit a cancer-fighting potential. Both possibilities are considered rather remote at this time. But the complex interaction of hereditary predisposition, lifestyle, and environment on the development of cancer makes the likelihood of determining a single cause fairly remote.
Cancers of the breast, stomach, colon, prostate, uterus, ovaries, and lungs do appear to run in families. For example, a woman runs a much higher risk of having breast cancer if her mother or sisters (primary relatives) have had the disease, particularly if they had the disease at a young age. Hodgkin’s disease and certain leukemia show similar familial patterns. Whether these familial patterns are attributable to genetic susceptibility or to the fact that people in the same families experience similar environmental risks remains uncertain.
Gender also affects the likelihood of developing certain forms of cancer. For example, breast cancer occurs primarily among females, although men do occasionally get breast cancer. Obviously, factors other than heredity and familial relationships affect which sex develops a particular cancer. In the 1950s and 1960s, for example, women rarely contracted lung cancer. But with increases in the number of women who smoked and the length of time they had smoked, lung cancer became the leading cause of cancer deaths for American women in the 1980s and continues to be the leading cause of cancer death in women. Lifestyle is clearly a critical factor in the interaction of variables that predispose a person toward cancer. Although gender plays a role in certain cases, other variables are probably more significant.
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