Study shows survival traits for breast, lung, prostate and colorectal cancers are passed from parents to children

2 Nov 2007
Children whose parents had good survival after diagnosis of breast, lung, prostate, or colorectal cancers have better survival rates for cancers at the same site than children whose parents had died from these conditions. These are the conclusions of authors of an Article published in the November issue of The Lancet Oncology.

Dr Linda Lindström, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden, and colleagues used a population-based Swedish family database, that included three million families and more than a million individuals with cancer. They analysed child survival in relation to parental survival using statistical techniques and computer modelling.

They found that children with the same cancer as their parent and whose parent had died within 10 years of diagnosis showed significantly worse survival for breast, lung, colorectal, and prostate cancers, compared with children whose parents had good survival. The increased risk to the children whose parents had died earlier was 75% for breast cancer, 107% for prostate cancer, 44% for colorectal cancer, and 39% for lung cancer. Risk of death for these children also increased by degree of worsening survival outcome for their parents.

The authors say: “In conclusion, our findings provide support for the hypothesis that cancer-specific survival of a patient can be predicted from previous parental survival from cancer at the same site. Consequently, molecular studies that highlight the genetic determinants of inherited survival in cancers are needed. In a clinical setting, information on poor survival in a family might be vital in accurately predicting tumour progression in the newly diagnosed individual.”

In an accompanying Comment, Dr Ora Paltiel, Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Centre, Jerusalem, Israel, says: “Lindström and colleagues, findings, if confirmed, might have practical implications for family members and their physicians. For example additional information might now be available for children who have a parent affected by a rapidly fatal cancer, which could act as a basis for specific therapeutic and preventative decisions—for example active treatment versus observation in prostate cancer. Research on patterns of disease in families has led to valuable clues about cancer genetics and susceptibility syndromes.”