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Genetics and Cancer

Just as heredity determines the color of your eyes or the shape of your nose, family history may increase your risk for certain types of cancer.

Not all cancers are passed from generation to generation. Hereditary cancers are rare, but you should consider genetic education, screening, or counseling if you already know of a genetic abnormality in your family, if you or members of your family are of Ashkenazi Jewish (eastern or central European) ancestry or if you or your close relatives have:

  • Cancer diagnosed at an early age, typically before age 50.
  • Cancer of the same type as other relatives on the same side of the family (such as three family members with colon cancer).
  • Two or more different cancers (such as breast and ovarian cancer in the same family member).
  • Multiple primary tumors or bilateral cancer (such as cancer in both breasts).
  • An unusual cancer (such as male breast cancer).
  • Cancer in multiple generations.
  • Multiple polyps in the stomach or intestine.

Genetic testing may help some families. For others, comprehensive risk assessment and genetic education provides enough information to develop a plan to lower the risk of cancer. Before pursuing genetic testing, you should always take advantage of counseling by a genetics professional who has received specialized training.

We offer counseling for hereditary forms of these cancers:

  • Breast
  • Colon/gastrointestinal
  • Endometrial (uterine)
  • Ovarian

What to Expect

First, you'll meet with our genetic educator to complete a thorough family health history and risk-assessment profile. Next, you'll discuss:

  • Potential cancer risk and risk reduction strategies.
  • Options for screening and whether testing might be appropriate.
  • Factors to consider to help you decide whether to pursue genetic testing.

If you decide to go ahead with testing, your genetics nurse will schedule your appointment for a simple blood test or buccal test (a collection of saliva using a mouthwash).

When your genetic educator receives your test results, you'll meet again to discuss your options and create a plan for care and follow-up. Your genetic educator works with your multidisciplinary team to coordinate your screening or treatment plan.