Saint Agnes Cancer Center offers genetic consultation to help identify patients who are at elevated risk for specific types of cancer. Armed with this essential information, patients can make more informed decisions regarding their health care, now and into the future.
Is cancer hereditary?
Most cancer is not due to an inherited predisposition. However, up to 10 percent of breast and ovarian cancer and 5-10 percent of colon and some other cancers are linked to inherited altered genes. Genes are the "blueprints" for cell growth and development. Individuals who inherit a "cancer susceptibility" gene have a much higher risk of developing cancer during their lifetime, often before age 50.
Several genes whose mutation results in a major cancer risk have now been identified. Two of the major breast cancer genes are called BRCA1 and BRCA2. Mutations in these genes result in a high risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Several other genes are linked to an increased risk of colon or other digestive system cancers. In a few cases, a gene change may cause multiple types of cancer in a single family.
Evaluation of your personal and family histories can allow a genetic counselor or clinical geneticist to estimate your risk of having one of these genes. DNA testing may help families and their physicians identify individuals who should start screening at an early age.
What is my risk?
You have a higher chance of having an inherited predisposition to cancer in these situations:
- If you have had breast cancer before age 50 or ovarian cancer at any age.
- If you have one or more close relatives with breast cancer before age 50 or ovarian cancer.
- If you have had two or more different cancers.
- If you have a personal or family history of colon cancer before age 50.
- If you are of Ashkenazi Jewish descent and have a family history of cancer.
- If you have more than one close relative with cancer before age 50, even if the cancers are
of different types.
Want to test your family health? Click here for a Family Health Portrait assessment.
What should I do?
If you are concerned about your personal or family history, you can speak with your healthcare provider. Your provider may then refer you to our genetic risk assessment program. Genetic evaluation and counseling are the first steps in determining the chances that you or your family may have a hereditary predisposition to cancer.
If gene testing might be helpful, that option will be explored. Gene testing is not for everyone. The pros and cons need to be carefully weighed. You can decide with your genetic counselor whether gene testing is right for you.
Saint Agnes Cancer Risk Program
Our geneticists are certified by the American Board of Medical Genetics and work closely with surgeons, clinical and radiation oncologists, and primary care physicians to provide comprehensive management for patients and their families, including:
- A complete family history
- Obtaining and reviewing medical records
- Assessment of personal and familial risks
- Discussion of options, including DNA testing, medical surveillance and lifestyle modifications
- Discussion of benefits and limitations of testing
- Gene analysis, if appropriate and desired, with follow-up
- Referral to other healthcare professionals for management