No Cancer In Your Family...No Risk For You, Right?

Author: OncoLink Team
Content Contributor: Katherine Okonak, MSW, LSW
Last Reviewed: January 10, 2024

You do have a risk of cancer, even when there is no history of cancer in your family. Cancer can happen to anyone and only 15 to 20 out of 100 people with cancer have a family history.

Cancer Risk and Family History

Your family’s medical history is an important part of knowing more about your cancer risk. You may not be aware of cancers in your family if they were never talked about or you might know someone in the family was “sick” but might not know it was cancer. It can be really hard to talk about, but it is useful information for everyone in the family. You can use My Family Health Portrait  to create a family health history and keep track of what you learn.

Is cancer hereditary?

A specific cancer can’t be passed down from parents to children, but genetic changes that increase the risk of cancer can be. Up to 10% of cancers are caused by abnormal genes that are inherited (passed on from parents). Genetic testing can show if you have an increased risk of cancer. Talk with your provider to see if genetic testing or genetic counseling is right for you.

What can I do?

Talk with your family about cancer in the family and any known genetic risks. Share this information with your primary care provider and follow their recommendations for cancer screening and prevention.



National Cancer Institute. 2022. The Genetics of Cancer.


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