Home » Pet Health » Genes and Cancer » Relationship Between Genes and Cancer, Overview


Cancer is a complicated disease defined by uncontrolled cell division and growth. Its causes are widespread and include exposure to infectious agents like viruses, the influence of environmental factors like chemical toxins, and changes to the body’s genetic makeup. When genetic defects called mutations occur in the DNA, cells become cancerous.

Luckily, the body has mechanisms to eliminate impaired cells or repair DNA damage. In fact, specific genes look after our pet’s cells by fixing genetic mistakes and controlling growth. However, sometimes the repair mechanisms fail, and the mutations persist. If your pet suffers changes to its genes, cancer may develop as a result. Often, a faulty repair process means the gene alterations go unnoticed, and cells with the defective gene continue to divide and grow uncontrollably.

Mutations arise for different reasons including biological changes to DNA, changes to the DNA sequence and structure because of physical, chemical, or biological substances, or lifestyle factors that increase cancer risk (like sun exposure or ingestion of tobacco products). These genetic alterations may occur in reproductive cells, thus passing from one generation to the next. But most mutations arise in non-reproductive cells and do not pass to offspring.

Not all mutations lead to cancer, and only those deemed high-risk are likely to give rise to cancer. Cancers such as lymphoma, mammary cancer, and mast cell tumors result from high-risk mutations.

Learning about your pet’s genetics can be complex, but appreciating how changes to your furry friend’s genes can influence cancer development gets you one step closer to understanding your beloved pet’s cancer diagnosis.

The Pet Cancer Foundation’s Website Editorial team is comprised of veterinarians, veterinary oncologists, and veterinary technicians, as well as scientific writers and editors who have attained their PhD’s in the life sciences, along with general editors and research assistants. All content found in this section goes through an extensive process with multiple review stages, to ensure this extended resource provides pet families with the most up-to-date information publicly available.

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Keep Your Pets Healthy Editorial Team

Last Updated: November 15, 2022

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The Pet Cancer Foundation’s medical resource for pet owners is protected by copyright.

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