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A study of over 200,000 twins followed for a median of 32 years is providing more information about how genetics influences cancer risk.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that cancers of various types run in families. Overall, researchers found that about 33 percent of the population’s variance in cancer risk was due to genetics, but the figure ranged widely for different types of cancer.
Researchers looked at identical and fraternal twins in Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden, who were part of the Nordic Twin Study of Cancer. They determined whether the twins had cancer from national registries. They found that risk of some cancers— notably skin, prostate, ovary, kidney, breast, and uterine cancer — was measurably influenced by genetics.
These results are based on individuals in Nordic countries, and authors caution that they cannot be generalized to other populations.
Other teams have published recent heritability estimates for breast and prostate cancer. A large twin study in 2000 reported heritability estimates for breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer, but this current study has given those findings greater statistical certainty. All of these studies were conducted on individuals from Nordic countries.
The study’s authors conclude that this information may better inform patients. “This information about hereditary risks of cancers may be helpful in patient education and cancer risk counseling,” they write.
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