Can you inherit colon cancer?

sophia kupfer inherit gi cancer
Gastroenterologist Sonia Kupfer, MD

Gastrointestinal (GI) cancers are the group of cancers that can involve the pancreas, colon, stomach, esophagus, rectum, anus, liver, biliary system and small intestine. Tumors in the stomach, liver, colon and rectum are among the five most common cancers in both men and women worldwide.

In most cases, GI cancer develops by chance or is related to a risk factor such as smoking or obesity. However, GI cancers can run in families and the risk of getting cancer is passed down from generation to generation.

The Gastrointestinal Cancer Risk and Prevention Clinic at UChicago Medicine offers assessment for patients and families who may have increased risk for developing colorectal, gastric, pancreatic and other cancers of the digestive system. With better understanding of the human genome and more affordable genetic testing, the team at the Gastrointestinal Cancer Risk and Prevention Clinic can tailor preventive care for patients based on their family history and personal risk.

Is colon cancer usually hereditary?

About 5 to 10 percent of GI cancers are considered hereditary, meaning the patient inherited a gene mutation from one or both parents. The rest are thought to be sporadic, which means the genetic changes that make a cell cancerous occur after a person is born.

What is considered a family history of colon cancer?

A family history of colon cancer is when a parent, siblings, children or other family members have had a gastrointestinal cancer. A person with a family history is at greater risk of developing the disease. The risk is even higher if a first-degree relative is diagnosed with the same cancer at a relatively young age (before 60).

Can other hereditary conditions cause colon cancer?

There are some inherited syndromes that increase the risk of gastrointestinal cancer. The most common of these is Lynch Syndrome, an inherited disorder that predisposes people to developing colon, uterine, stomach, small intestine and other cancers.

Does your program offer genetic testing for colon cancer?

Yes, our physicians and genetic counselors use personal and family history as well as genetic testing to assess cancer risk of individuals and their family members. Genetic testing is performed through a simple, painless blood test.

Is genetic testing for colon cancer covered by insurance?

Many insurance plans will cover genetic testing for patients with a personal and/or family history of cancer. Our genetic counselor can help navigate this process.

How do I prevent colon cancer if I do have a family history?

Once the risk is determined, our team works closely with patients and their primary care physicians to develop strategies for surveillance and management. These could include:

  • Prevention counseling and strategies
  • Colorectal cancer screening
  • Pancreatic cancer screening for high-risk patients
  • Surgical procedures
  • Cancer prevention for patients with inflammatory bowel disease

How often should I have a colonoscopy if I have a family history of colon cancer?

For some individuals with a family history, earlier and more frequent colonoscopies are recommended. If you have a family history of colon cancer, be sure to mention it to your health care provider who will make the best recommendation for when you should have a colonoscopy.

What’s on the horizon for detecting and preventing GI cancers?

The future for early detection and prevention of GI cancers is bright. While we already have several good tools, such as colonoscopy, we are working to find innovative and less invasive ways to prevent GI cancers. With these advances and the work of our clinic, our goal is for long, healthy lives for our patients and their families.

Sonia Kupfer, MD

Sonia Kupfer, MD

Sonia Kupfer, MD, is a gastroenterologist and an expert in diagnosing and treating genetic disorders including hereditary gastrointestinal cancer syndromes and celiac disease. She serves as director of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Risk and Prevention Clinic and co-director of the Comprehensive Cancer Risk and Prevention Clinic.

See Dr. Kupfer's profile