Approximately 10% of melanoma cases report a relative affected with melanoma, and a positive family history is associated with an increased risk of developing melanoma. Although the majority of genetic alterations associated with melanoma development are somatic, the underlying presence of heritable melanoma risk genes is an important component of disease occurrence. Susceptibility for some families is due to mutation in one of the known high penetrance melanoma predisposition genes: CDKN2A, CDK4, BAP1, POT1, ACD, TERF2IP and TERT. However, despite such mutations being implicated in a combined total of approximately 50% of familial melanoma cases, the underlying genetic basis is unexplained for the remainder of high-density melanoma families. Aside from the possibility of extremely rare mutations in a few additional high penetrance genes yet to be discovered, this suggests a likely polygenic component to susceptibility, and a unique level of personal melanoma risk influenced by multiple low-risk alleles and genetic modifiers. In addition to conferring a risk of cutaneous melanoma, some ‘melanoma’ predisposition genes have been linked to other cancers, with cancer clustering observed in melanoma families at rates greater than expected by chance. The most extensively documented association is between CDKN2A germ line mutations and pancreatic cancer, and a cancer syndrome including cutaneous melanoma, uveal melanoma and mesothelioma has been proposed for BAP1 germ line mutations. Other medium to high penetrance melanoma predisposition genes have been associated with renal cell carcinoma (MITF, BAP1) and glioma (POT1). These associations between melanoma and other cancers hint at the possibility of common pathways for oncogenesis, and better knowledge of these pathways may improve understanding of the genetic basis underpinning familial melanoma. It is likely that ‘melanoma’ risk genes will impact on mutation screening and genetic counselling not only for melanoma but also a range of other cancers.
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