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Is There a Hereditary Connection in AML?

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Published on March 3, 2020

Key Takeaways

Patient Power Co-founder Andrew Schorr asks expert Dr. Eunice Wang, from the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, about the likelihood of an acute myeloid leukemia diagnosis being hereditary. Dr. Wang explains that in most cases, causes are age-related and not inherited. In situations where a younger person is diagnosed with AML, there may be reason to study the family history to determine if there is a genetic predisposition. Watch now to find out more from an AML expert.

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Transcript | Is There a Hereditary Connection in AML?

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Andrew Schorr:           

Dr. Wang, I have a basic question you must get asked in clinic all the time.

Dr. Wang:        

Sure.

Andrew Schorr:           

A family comes in and they said, “Did we do something to bring this on?”, A) and B) “If Mom or Dad has developed this, do the other members of the family, the younger members, have to worry about that too?”

Dr. Wang:        

So, that’s a great question, Andrew, and that’s something that’s a primary question, that when people get diagnosed with cancer is something we always get. I think in the majority of cases, we tell patients that their major risk factor to develop cancer is really their age. As you know most of the cancer screenings that we do, colonoscopies, mammograms, prostate cancer screening, all occur at certain ages. And we know that in the bone marrow of individuals, as you age, these cells age, and they acquire, what we call, age-related mutations, and over time those mutations can contribute to development of acute myeloid leukemia and other bone marrow problems. However, those are due to you being exposed to various things and mutations that occur. They’re not usually due to inherited dispositions. That being said, a small percentage of individuals who develop myelodysplastic syndrome, or acute myeloid leukemia, particularly in younger ages, or ones that have specific mutations may have inherited genetic predispositions.

So, typically what we would do, is we would say, most likely, the typical age of presentation of acute myeloid leukemia is 67 to 70. Most cases are going to be age-related, but it is becoming standard now, that we do a very careful family history, and we look for individuals in the family that might have developed blood cancers, who might have, for example, low platelets or other blood cell abnormalities, and if we see a pattern, we have a protocol at our center. We have genetic counselors, and typically we turn to those experts or to specialized clinics and ask them to do the same thing: to do a detailed family history, and to assure these individuals that is there something that they need to be concerned about?

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