Is Cancer Genetic? Finding the Right Doctor...

Updated on March 31, 2010
K.B. asks from Schaumburg, IL
7 answers

Hi, Mommies,

I recently found out that I have a small tumor on my brain. The CT Scan results show that this tumor does not involve brain or bone matter, it's located in the meniges. It is called a menigioma on the CT report, and, according to the internet, these grow slowly. I will have an MRI this Friday to learn more about what this tumor is.

In the meantime, I spoke with my father today about my great grandmother's brain cancer. Her tumor supposedly grew slowly, and she died in her 70s. It appears that the location of her tumor is similar to the location of mine. This has me a little freaked out. Is it possible that I have some genetic thing going on here? It actually makes me feel a little relieved if she lived so long, and my tumor was found when I'm so young.

Also, I learned this week that finding a good doctor when time is precious can be EXHAUSTING. How can I go about finding good doctors? I hope to find a neurologist that will work with an oncologist out of Northwestern Memorial or University of Chicago, if needed.

I realize that I am probably putting the cart before the horse, but I need to know what to do now in case I may be too depressed later. Thank you for your help!

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answers from Portland on

Yes, cancer can be genetic. Breast cancer is an example. I don't know if all cancers are genetic but I suspect that they are not. I often hear of cancer in a family in which no one else has had cancer.

I had a carcinoid tumor in my lung. Carcinoid is a form of cancer that is slow growing. The doctor said it had probably been there for 20 years or more. They found it when they took an x-ray to confirm or rule out pneumonia. It was the size of a quarter. They determined what kind of a tumor it was by going inside my lung thru my mouth while I was under twilight anesthesia. If the tumor had not be cancer they would not have operated.

I did have surgery and one lobe removed. I've been cancer free for 6-7 years now. And I don't miss that one lobe.

I know how scary it is while you wait to get more information. I think that the fact that your great grandmother had a similar tumor in the same place and lived to 70 is a very good sign. Do you know why she died. I was told that I could probably, but not for sure, live to die from some other cause if I decided to not remove the tumor. I just felt like I didn't want to take the chance. I'd had several abdominal surgeries and felt comfortable with a surgery. It was the easiest surgery I'd had. They have so much better drugs now then when I was younger and having surgery.

Since your tumor does not involve the brain or bone, I would think that even if you do have it out the surgery will go well.

I trusted my gp and went to the specialist that he recommended. I saw a pulmonologist first to find out if the tumor was cancerous or not and then he referred me to a surgeon. I was able to read about the clinic that these two doctors practiced in and felt comfortable with both of them from the start. If a cancer diagnosis and surgery can be considered good this was a good, tho scary, experience.

I've read and I believe based on my own experience that the most important part of surgery is trusting your surgeon and the hospital in which the surgery takes place. I don't know the hospitals you mention but if they have a good reputation go there. Listen to the doctors and if you feel a sense of calm and trust then use those doctors. If not find another one.

One reason I decided to have the surgery is that I didn't want to have that tumor on the back of my mind forever. It also helped that the doctor said that he would have it out if it were in his lung.

Whether or not your tumor is the result of your genes doesn't change much. You have it. The question I would ask is is this tumor the sort that migrates to other parts of the body or has migrated from another part of the body. Now that I write that. the main reason I had surgery was a carcinoid can migrate. I had full trunk CT scans for 5 years after the surgery.

Hang in there. Sounds like you'll be back to normal before you know it. If you're feeling really anxious, ask for Ativan or one of those medications to take short term. I didn't need an antianxiety med for the cancer experience but when I needed an MRI of my head because I was dizzy I did need the Ativan. Also, during the MRI procedure they gave me Valium introvenously. If you haven't had a MRI before and you are feeling very anxious you might ask them, ahead of time, to consider the possibility of using Valium. Also you can ask about using a machine with a wider opening and having music piped in. That helped me a whole lot. An open machine is not so good because the pictures are not as sharp. I suggest that finding out more about the actual procedure with the MRI might be helpful. You can find info on the Internet.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

Another excellent cancer treatment center is at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood (close to Brookfield Zoo) It's the Cardinal Bernadine Cancer Center and they are excellent.



answers from Chicago on

Before I was a stay at home mom, I was a neuro nurse. I saw lots of meningiomas. Yep, s l o w growing. You are going through a scary process, but please let me tell you those patients did really well. Outcome good, very little pain. They were always so shocked at how well they felt.
I think your choice of hospitals is good!
Like Riley J. said, it works better to have your doctor to book your appointments.



answers from San Diego on

Is cancer genetic? They can be, but they can also be caused by other things. Same token a person may have a genetic predisposition towards certain kinds of cancers and never actually get them.

How to find a good doctor is via other doctors. So ask YOUR doctor who the best ones in the state are... Chances are you'll find the same top neurologists and oncologists at the same hospitals (because they'll be at the best hospitals). Same token, hospital administrators lobby for their docs & programs. So if you have a short list of hospitals, call them up as well and get a short list of "raved" about doctors.

To know:

Surgeons tend to be a**holes. (Just like anesthesiologists tend to have great senses of humor, and very little phases oncologists). For a surgeon, TRY not to care about beside manner too much. Most of them are jerks who shouldn't be allowed to talk to patients in the first place (I say this with love, my grandfather & one of my aunties are both surgeons). But you almost never see your surgeon, so you care about their skills, not their winning personalities. You WILL see your oncologist quite a bit, so make sure you find one you like on a personal level.

Another trick, btw, is once you have your docs... and they start sending you for outside tests is to NEVER book those appts. yourself. Have their office staff book them for you. "ASAP" coming from a patient and "ASAP" coming from "so and so from Dr. Whoever's office" have totally different meanings.

My good friend finally had surgery this year to remove a similar tumor, that she's been tracking since highschool. (HS, Suma Cum Laude BA, Top 3% of lawschool, NY bar... and then once she was done, figured she had time to recoup and had the surgery after xmas this year.) Just because -as freaky as it sounds- there's a tumor in your head... doesn't mean that you will necessarily a) have to do anything other than monitor it for several years to come if you so choose & b) have any loss of cognitive or motor function.

But it's utterly amazing how safe brain surgery has become over the past decade or so.


Good luck!




answers from Las Vegas on

I have a website I can get you which will tell you if the doctor you are looking at is board certified.

My mother had colin cancer. She is 67. I asked a lot of questions on behalf of me and my sisters. I was told by more than one doctor that if my the cancer was found in my mother at an earlier age, then we should be concerned with genetics. I actually felt as if they were telling long enough and you may get it. She is cancer free for 1 year now.

It may be genetic, but educate yourself. You sound a little anxious about this, which I totally understand, but you can't get yourself over excited when some of this is not in your hands. Educate yourself so you understand what is being said. Take a note pad in the office when they talk to you about your medications, so you can refer to your notes later. I typed the entire medication consultation into my iphone and emailed it to my sisters, so everyone was aware of the meds, side effects, and terms of medications. We referred to the notes quite often. As well, go in with your questions. Take someone with you to help you remember and understand all of this.

My mother went through the cancer institute and she was part of a study which paid for her chemo-therapy. The institute had a small library, where you were allowed to check out books about cancer, from coping to the science.

I am sorry you are dealing with this, but be strong. Great Grandma is actually quite a distance from you from my understanding of how this works.



answers from Chicago on

Hi K.

I am so sorry to hear that you are going through this. I am currently battling breast cancer, and I see Dr. Alex Hantel who is the director of the Medical Onocology ward at Edwards Hospital in Naperville. He is WONDERFUL!! My surgeon works out of Northwestern, so I thing that you should choose the doctors that feel right to you, and they will work together. My advice is to get several opinions, and pick the doctor/facility that feels right to you. After my diagnosis, I saw 2 surgeons and 2 onocologists, and definately felt better about the docs I chose, and the treatment plan that they had for me.

I have no idea about brain cancer being a genetic thing. I would think not, as cancer is pretty individual. Even if someone is predisposed to a certain type of cancer, every cancer is unique in DNA, and you cannot really compare one person's experience with cancer to another's.

It is very scary in the beginning when you are still searching for answers and finding doctors, and doing testing. It certainly seems like you are not doing anything to fight it, but you are. And I promise, once you get some answers in the next few weeks, and lay out a treatment plan, you will feel better and more in control.

I hope for the best for you, and you will be in my thoughts and prayers.

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