Genetics and cancer

Genes control how cells produce the proteins the body needs, as well as how well they function, especially how they grow and divide. Genes affect aspects such as eye color, height, skin color, as well as affect the likelihood of certain diseases, one of them being cancer.

Cancer is one of the main public health problems worldwide due to its incidence, prevalence and mortality. It is estimated that one in three men and one in four women will be diagnosed with cancer throughout their lives. Cancer is a genetic disease, in which cells grow uncontrollably, caused by certain genetic changes. Most cancers are sporadic, that is, they happen by chance. Although we all have the possibility of developing cancer, there are several factors (exposure to UV rays, bacteria, viruses, certain chemical substances) that can increase or decrease this possibility. It is believed that only about 5% to 10% of all cancers are directly due to genetic defects (called mutations) inherited from a parent.


Hereditary cancer syndrome

Mutations in specific genes have been associated with more than 50 hereditary cancer syndromes (among which are mainly breast cancer, colorectal cancer (cancer of the digestive system), ovarian cancer, melanoma (skin cancer), Wilms tumor (kidney cancer), retinoblastoma), which are disorders that can predispose individuals to develop certain types of cancer.


How do you recognize a family cancer syndrome?

The main characteristics of hereditary cancer are:

  1. High incidence of cancer in the family.
  2. Occurrence of the same type of cancer.
  3. Appearance of cancer at an early age. Hereditary cancer usually appears before the age in which the appearance of the sporadic form of that same type of cancer is frequent.
  4. Bilaterality in the case of involvement of paired organs.
  5. Multifocality: hereditary tumors begin independently in several foci distributed by the organ where they settle, instead of appearing in a single focus.
  6. Appearance of several cancers in the same individual.
  7. Association of cancer with developmental defects.

Can a hereditary cancer be prevented?

Some hereditary cancers can be prevented, two of the most important in the field of hereditary cancer, such as breast and colorectal cancer, can be prevented in a high percentage of cases if advised correctly and the most effective preventive measures are taken.

Within these measures we can speak of three large groups:

1) Early diagnosis: early detection programs have managed to reduce the incidence of cancer in some tumors above 50%.

2) Chemoprevention: use of drugs to reduce the risk of cancer.

3) Preventive surgery: sometimes people at high risk decide to opt for preventive surgical intervention, removing the risk organ

Also, another advantage of the identification of mutations in certain genes is allowing the development of personalized and targeted treatments for each patient. Currently, we carry out some studies in our research center, in which we seek to identify the mutation of certain genes because it has been observed that certain expression levels of some markers due to genetic mutations increase the affinity to the study drug.