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Genetics Glossary

Genes: Genes are small pieces of DNA that consist of instructions that tell our bodies how to work. They inform everything from hair and eye color, to food digestion and breathing.

Genes that are commonly involved in cancer growth include oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes. These genes provide instructions on how to regulate cell growth, death, and division as well as how fix mistakes in the DNA. When these genes are impaired or mutated, they do not properly give instructions.

Inherit: Inheritance is the passing of genetic information from one generation to the next. Parents pass about half of their genes to each of their offspring.

Oncogene: Oncogenes are a type of gene that is normally turned off. They are turned on when genes called proto-oncogenes are not functioning correctly due to a mistake or mutation in the gene. When oncogenes are turned on, cells grow uncontrollably and lead to cancer.

Tumor Suppressor Gene: Tumor suppressor genes are genes that are responsible for keeping cancer from growing. They monitor cell division, fix mistakes in the DNA, and tell cells when to die. When mutated, or not working properly, cells with abnormal tumor suppressor genes are more likely to grow out of control and lead to the development of cancer. Mutations that impair, or turn off, tumor suppressor genes cause an increased risk of developing cancer.

Mutation: A mutation is a permanent change in a gene that damages or changes the function of the gene.

Sporadic: Sporadic cancer is the most common type of cancer that is not caused by an inherited genetic mutation. Sporadic cancer is caused by mutations that randomly occur only in certain cells in the body. Such mutations can be caused by the sun, smoke, radiation, or other random changes in the cell.

Hereditary: Hereditary cancer is caused by abnormal, or mutated, genes that are passed down through generations within a family, causing family members who inherit the mutation to be diagnosed with certain types of cancers.

Bilateral: Cancer that occurs in a pair of organs. Bilateral cancer can be diagnosed at the same or different times. Some bilateral cancers that can occur include breast, eye, ovarian, or kidney.

United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF): The USPSTF is an independent panel of non-Federal experts in prevention and evidence-based medicine and is composed of primary health care providers (such as internists, pediatricians, family physicians, gynecologists/obstetricians, nurses, and health behavior specialists). The USPSTF conducts scientific evidence reviews of a broad range of clinical preventive health care services (such as screening, counseling, and preventive medications) and develops recommendations for primary care clinicians and health systems. These recommendations are published in the form of "Recommendation Statements."


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