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SAMJ: South African Medical Journal

On-line version ISSN 2078-5135
Print version ISSN 0256-9574


SCOTT, C J; SCHOEMAN, M  and  URBAN, M F. Cancer genetics: An approach to suspected hereditary breast or colorectal cancer. SAMJ, S. Afr. med. j. [online]. 2019, vol.109, n.4, pp.214-218. ISSN 2078-5135.

Two of the most common cancers are breast cancer and colorectal cancer. Up to 10% of cases of each are associated with a high risk of recurrence in an affected individual, or of occurrence in biological relatives. This results from the presence of an underlying mutation (or 'pathogenic variant') in a high-penetrance gene. Such cases are typically associated with an autosomal dominant pattern of inheritance, although this may not be obvious in the family history. Genetic testing can identify many (but not all) of these cases, and should be offered to those whose family history or clinical features suggest a high risk. Although testing for certain risk genes (e.g. BRCA1 or BRCA2) has been available for years, the advent of next-generation sequencing gene panels' now allows for simultaneous testing of many more genes at lower cost. This allows for more frequent detection of pathogenic variants in underlying genes than in the past, but also makes interpretation more complex. An index of suspicion for genetic cancers and appropriate referral to a genetics health professional are increasingly important.

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