Hereditary cancer happens when a gene mutation that increases cancer risk is passed down from a parent to a child.

  • Hereditary factors account for up to 10 per cent of all cancer diagnosis
  • Inherited risk spans all cancer types
  • Not everyone who inherits a hereditary gene will develop cancer


Early identification of gene mutations that could signal a hereditary risk is performed through genetic screening. Medical Geneticist Dr. Kasmintan Schrader and Medical Oncologist Dr. Sophie Sun lead the BC Cancer's Hereditary Cancer Program (HCP), which currently screens for the most common inherited genetic mutations BRCA1, BRCA2 and Lynch syndrome. The goals of this program are to:

  1. Offer faster testing and diagnosis
  2. Provide better diagnosis
  3. Focus on high risk families

Hereditary Cancer Explained

About 10 per cent of cancers are hereditary. BC Cancer’s Hereditary Cancer Program runs genetic testing on tumours to see if the patient’s family is at risk of cancer. Testing can prevent or catch cancer early in family members of patients. With donor support, BC Cancer can be one of the first in the world to test upfront genetic screening in patients. 


Faster diagnosis is key, as it can influence cancer treatment decisions, and importantly, help prevent or catch cancer early in a family member. Family members can then undertake predictive genetic testing to determine whether they are at high-risk for cancer, in order to reduce their cancer risk.

Hereditary testing is done on individuals who meet certain criteria, and it consists of collecting a sample of saliva or blood. If a mutation is identified, a genetic counsellor will help explain the information and how it can be used, such as implementing increased surveillance or screening (e.g. regular colonoscopies) before cancer is detected at an advanced stage.

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For more information, please contact:

Lindsay Abbott, Associate Director