Yes, some types of blood cancer are hereditary. Family members can pass on genetic mutations that increase a person’s risk of blood cancer.

All cancers are a result of a gene mutation. Some of these mutations are hereditary (passed down from parent to child), making them more likely to develop a particular type of cancer.

Having an inherited gene mutation does not mean a person will definitely get cancer, it just means there is a chance that they will.

While genetics are one risk factor for certain blood cancers, other factors may increase the likelihood as well. These include smoking, having excess weight, and exposure to certain herbicides and chemicals.

Read more to learn about which blood cancers run in families and how a person can understand and manage their cancer risk.

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Some blood cancers are hereditary. These are also called inherited cancers.

Despite this term, they are actually an inherited genetic change. This predisposes a person to cancer, but it does not directly cause cancer.

Cancer happens when abnormal cells grow uncontrollably. Abnormal genetic changes, called mutations, can affect how cancer cells grow.

For example, a person may inherit a mutation in a gene that usually prevents cells from multiplying excessively. When the genes work correctly, they help protect an individual from cancer. This means that when the gene is mutated, it may not be able to stop cancer growth as it should.

Gene mutations do not guarantee that a person will develop cancer. They just increase a person’s risk.

Other factors also contribute to a person’s cancer risk. Inheriting a mutated gene only accounts for 5–10% of all cancers.

All cancers stem from gene mutations. A person can inherit risk factors for gene mutations, or environmental triggers can change a person’s genes.

Although acquired mutations are more common, researchers have linked some blood cancers to inherited gene mutations.

The following sections contain information about the three main types of blood cancer and how they can run in families.

Leukemia

Leukemia is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow.

When a person has leukemia, their body makes too many abnormal white blood cells. Their body also stops the bone marrow from making red blood cells, which carry oxygen and platelets to help the blood clot.

Several types of leukemia have links to hereditary gene mutations. These include:

  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia: This cancer starts in the lymphocytes, a type of cell that becomes a white blood cell.
  • Acute myeloid leukemia: This is an aggressive form of cancer that starts in the bone marrow.
  • Myelodysplastic syndromes: This is a group of conditions that means the blood cells do not form or function correctly.
  • Chronic myelomonocytic leukemia: This cancer causes an increase in myelomonocytes, a type of white blood cell.
  • Juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia: This cancer causes an increase in monocytes, an immature form of white blood cell.

Lymphoma

Lymphoma affects lymphocytes, a type of infection-fighting white blood cell.

The abnormal lymphocytes multiply and collect in lymph nodes and other tissues, preventing the immune system from working correctly.

Some types of lymphoma that can have a hereditary component include:

Myeloma

Myeloma affects blood plasma, the fluid portion of the blood.

Healthy plasma cells produce antibodies that fight infections. Abnormal plasma cells are unable to perform this function. This weakens the immune system and can cause a shortage of red blood cells, high calcium levels, and kidney failure.

Some types of myeloma that have links to inherited genetic mutations include:

  • Multiple myeloma: A cancer that affects plasma cells.
  • Myeloproliferative neoplasm: A cancer where the bone marrow makes increased red blood cells, white blood cells, or platelets.

While hereditary gene mutations contribute to a person’s cancer risk, acquired gene mutations cause most blood cancers.

A variety of factors can increase the likelihood of an acquired mutation. In turn, these risk factors make a person more likely to get cancer.

Leukemia risk factors

Risk factors for leukemia include:

Lymphoma risk factors

Risk factors for lymphoma include:

  • HIV
  • viruses including Epstein-Barr and human T-cell lymphotropic viruses
  • exposure to certain pesticides and herbicides

Myeloma risk factors

Risk factors for myeloma include:

  • being male*
  • being ages 45 years or older
  • being African American
  • having obesity
  • having past or ongoing exposure to X-rays and other kinds of ionizing radiation

* Sex and gender exist on spectrums. For the purposes of this article, we use “male” to refer to a person’s sex assigned at birth.

A person’s outlook depends on what type of cancer they have, what stage it is, and how doctors treat it. Experts provide outlook statistics in terms of relative survival, which compares the survival of an individual with a certain condition to the survival of someone without the condition.

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society lists the below 5-year relative survival rates for various blood cancers:

  • acute lymphatic leukemia: 72.1%
  • acute myeloid leukemia: 29.8%
  • chronic lymphocytic leukemia: 88.6%
  • chronic myeloid leukemia: 71.7%
  • Hodgkin lymphoma: 89.6%
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma: 75.1%
  • Myeloma: 55.1%

But it is important to note that each cancer is different. People with a type of blood cancer should contact a doctor to discuss their individual outlook and treatment options.

Some blood cancers have a hereditary component. People can inherit genetic mutations that increase their risk of certain blood cancers.

But not all blood cancers are hereditary. Most are the result of acquired gene mutations.

Although individuals cannot change their genetic makeup that predisposes them to some blood cancers, they can help reduce their risk in other ways. Examples include not smoking, avoiding exposure to herbicides and pesticides, and reaching or maintaining a moderate weight.