• familial cancer;
  • familial risk;
  • heritability;
  • cancer genes


A reliable determination of familial risks for cancer is important for clinical counseling, prevention and understanding cancer etiology. Family-based gene identification efforts may be targeted if the risks are well characterized and the mode of inheritance is identified. Medically verified data on familial risks have not been available for all types of cancer but they have become available through the use of the nationwide Swedish Family-Cancer Database, which includes all Swedes born in 1932 and later with their parents, totaling over 10 million individuals. Over 150 publications have emanated from this source. The familial risks of cancer have been characterized for all main cancers and the contribution of environmental and heritable effects to the familial aggregation has been assessed. Furthermore, the mode of inheritance has been deduced by comparing risks from parental and sibling probands. Examples are shown on familial clustering of cancers, for which heritable susceptibility genes are yet unknown, such as squamous cell carcinoma of the skin, intestinal carcinoids, thyroid papillary tumors, brain astrocytomas and pituitary adenomas. Some common cancers, such as lung and kidney cancers, appear to show an early-onset recessive component because familial risks among siblings are much higher than those in families where parents are probands. Many of the cancer sites showing high familial risks lack guidelines for clinical counseling or action level. In conclusion, we recommend that any future gene identification efforts, either using linkage or association designs, devise their strategies based on data from family studies. Clinical genetic counseling would benefit from reviewing established familial risks on all main types of cancer. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.