Cancer is common - many people have someone in their family who currently has or has had cancer. It is not uncommon for more than one member of a family to have cancer.
Cancer can occur in families:
- Just by chance (mostly the case).
- Because family members have environmental and lifestyle influences in common (e.g. too much sun or smoking).
- Because there is an inherited faulty gene causing an increased chance of cancer (uncommon).
Only a small percentage of certain cancers (up to five per cent) are due to a faulty gene inherited from either the father or mother. This is what we call a familial or family cancer. This can also be referred to as an inherited predisposition to cancer. The faulty gene increases the risk of cancer, but even then it does not mean every family member will develop the cancer.
Trying to find information about cancers in your family and how to deal with them can be difficult. The following pages provide simple information about what it means to have a family history of cancer, some different types of family cancers and who you can contact for further information.
My family has a history of cancer
Family counselling and genetic counselling services
Genetic counselling services give people information about their chance of developing cancer based on their family history.
These services discuss ways that may help reduce the chance of cancer developing and methods of picking it up early. Sometimes genetic testing is possible, however it is only offered after the advantages and disadvantages of testing for the person and their family are discussed. Genetic testing is only useful if one of the family members with the cancer has been tested.
The information contained in this section should not be used for individual medical advice. Please see your doctor if you have concerns or specific questions relating to your health.
Types of family cancers
Cancer Genetics Education Resource Directory
- The Cancer Genetics Education Resource Directory provides a list of Australian publications and resources for health professionals and the public, many of which are available online.
- For information about breast cancer, ovarian cancer and research visit the National Breast Cancer Centre.
- The Family Cancer Service in Victoria has information about cancers, genetic testing and services in Victoria.
- The Centre for Genetics Education NSW provides current and relevant genetics information for individuals and family members affected by genetic conditions and the professionals who work with them.
- Hereditary Cancer Registers in NSW provides information on familial bowel cancers and some rare syndromes plus information about registers and how to contact them.
More information and resources
For more information about family cancers and genetic counselling services, please contact your doctor or call the Cancer Council Helpline on 13 11 20.
The information available on this page should not be used as a substitute for advice from a properly qualified medical professional who can advise you about your own individual medical needs. It is not intended to constitute medical advice and is provided for general information purposes only. See our Disclaimer.