Why genetic counseling?
Between 5 and 10 percent of all cancers are hereditary, which means that changes (or mutations) in specific genes transfer from one blood relative to another. People who inherit one of these gene changes will have a higher risk of developing cancer at some point in their life. Genetic counseling can help people understand this risk.
Is genetic counseling right for me?
Genetic counseling is not for everyone. In most cases, people who need genetic counseling fit into one of these groups:
- Individuals with cancer who were diagnosed at a younger than average age, usually before age 50
- Patients of any age with certain types of cancer, including ovarian, pancreatic and high-risk prostate
- Patients who develop more than one cancer, such as breast cancer and ovarian cancer
- Individuals with multiple relatives who have had cancer, particularly on one side of the family
- Patients with rare cancers or tumors (such as male breast cancer, medullary thyroid cancer, pheochromocytoma) or individuals with multiple colon polyps
- Individuals with a known pathogenic variant or mutation (positive genetic test result) for a cancer susceptibility gene
About the genetic counseling process
The first step to understanding your genetic cancer risk is a genetic counseling session, which has several phases.
The genetic counselor will take your medical history and create a cancer-focused family tree going back generations. Based on this information, the counselor will discuss how your family’s cancer history may be hereditary and what that means for you.
Genetic tests use a blood sample to look for genetic mutations that may lead to an increased risk for some cancers. After the medical and family history review, the counselor will discuss whether genetic testing is right for you.
Based on your family history and genetic test results, we will discuss ways to reduce your cancer risk. This discussion may cover cancer screening strategies, chemo prevention or even preventive surgery. You also may be referred to a high-risk screening clinic for further discussion and long-term cancer screening and monitoring.