Although most cancers are not inherited, some people may have a cancer risk that is passed down. If you want to know more about your personal or family risk, a genetic counselor can help.
Memorial Cancer Institute has a team specially trained in cancer genetics. We can evaluate your health history, test you for known mutations and calculate your risk level. We also can help you understand test results and guide you on the next steps to protect your and your family’s health.
Inherited Cancer Risk and Hereditary Cancer Syndromes
A hereditary cancer syndrome involves an abnormal gene that runs in a family. The abnormal gene increases family members’ risk for certain types of cancer. Examples include hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome (HBOC) and Lynch syndrome (hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer).
People with a genetic predisposition for cancer have a higher chance of developing the disease in their lifetime, often at an earlier age. Certain family characteristics may indicate increased cancer risk:
- Ashkenazi Jewish descent and a family history of breast cancer or ovarian cancer
- Cancer in relatives younger than 50 years of age
- One or more relatives who had two different types of cancer
- Relatives who had rare cancers (for example, medullary thyroid cancer, male breast cancer or sarcoma)
- Three family members who had the same kind of cancer
If you have these risk factors or if a genetic mutation has been identified in your family, talk to your primary care provider. They can refer you to a genetic specialist for counseling and testing.
Genetic Testing: What to Expect
Whether you’ve been diagnosed with cancer or want to understand your risk, your genetic counselor walks you through the process:
- Genetics education: We start by explaining the differences between hereditary and non-inherited cancer. Your counselor then explains the genetic testing process and three types of results: positive, negative and uncertain. We welcome your questions at every step along the way.
- Family history and personal medical history: We ask you for details about your family’s history of disease and your medical history. This information helps us understand your risk for certain types of diseases.
- Consent: We get your written permission before we proceed with testing.
- Testing: We conduct genetic testing by taking a simple blood or saliva sample. The blood test requires no fasting or special preparation. We send the sample to a lab and wait for the results. It usually takes about two to three weeks.
- Results: When your results are available, we reach out by phone. If your results are positive or uncertain, we invite you to talk with us again. This second appointment helps you to fully understand the results and ask questions. We may recommend regular cancer screening tests and ways to reduce your cancer risk. For example, if you have a positive result for a genetic mutation for breast cancer, we refer you to a specialist for comprehensive breast cancer screening.
- Follow-up: Knowledge about the human genome and genetic mutation changes daily. We will be here to follow up with you regarding any updates we receive about your results or to discuss any new information.
- Family communication: Your results may have implications for your family. If you choose to share your results, we can help prepare you for those conversations. We can also meet with your relatives for a genetic counseling consultation.
Genetic Testing and Counseling: Why Choose Memorial Cancer Institute?
When you come to Memorial for cancer genetic testing and counseling, you’ll find:
- Specially trained experts: Our highly skilled genetic team members have completed special training and have years of experience working in cancer genetics. They work exclusively in cancer and have extensive knowledge of cancer-specific mutations.
- Confidential care: Genetic risk and what you choose to do with the information are private, personal issues. We always keep the information confidential and never try to force you to do anything with it. Instead, we support you as you make your own decisions.
- Community partnership: Genetic specialists can be difficult to find. There aren’t enough in our region, and many smaller institutions don’t have them. The genetic counselors at Memorial work with patients and physicians throughout our community, not just those in our network.
- Simplified process: Genetics are complex, but we have worked to simplify the process. We see patients as quickly as possible and perform testing the day of your appointment.
- Network of oncologists: If we identify that you and your family have a genetic risk for one or more types of cancer, we have a plan. We refer you immediately to an expert who can screen you for cancer or recommend proactive treatments.