It has long been known that the risk of cancer is hereditary. But the new study, carried out by researchers at the Karolinska Institute and Söder hospital in Stockholm, is the first to show that the chance of survival also follows genetic lineage.
The descendants of people who died within ten years of a cancer diagnosis are up to twice as likely to die quickly from the same disease as those whose anscestors survived more than ten years after the diagnosis.
The risk appears to be highest for prostate cancer, somewhat lower for breast cancer and lower still for stomach cancer and lung cancer. A similar relationship is thought to exist for other cancers too, but in these four cases the evidence is most statistically significant, according to the research team led by Linda Lindström at Karolinska.
“Information about the survival of a parent could have the potential to guide the treatment,” wrote the researchers.
For example, such knowledge could determine whether aggressive treatment should be applied to a newly-discovered tumour, or whether its development should be observed.
The findings were based on data from a number of sources, including the Swedish cancer register which details over a million cancer cases. The paper is published in this month’s edition of Lancet Oncology and on the web site of Oxford-based medical publication The Lancet’s web site.