Our understanding of the relationship between cancer and genetics has grown rapidly. Research is answering many questions about why some families have more cancer than others.
We know that certain cancers, including breast, colon, uterine, ovarian, melanoma and pancreatic cancer, are more likely to occur in some families. However, a family history of cancer does not mean that you will develop cancer.
By understanding your risk for cancer, you can take steps to improve your health and reduce your risk. Knowledge of an increased risk for cancer can also help increase your chances for early detection and successful treatment.
What is cancer genetic counseling?
Genetic counseling is defined by the National Society of Genetic Counselors as a process of helping people understand and adapt to the medical, psychological and familial implications of genetic contributions to disease.
Genetic counselors are master’s-level health care professionals specially trained in medical genetics and counseling to help individuals and their families understand and manage their risk for inherited cancer.
Can cancer be inherited?
Between 5-10% of cancer is inherited. In some families, cancer is caused by changes or mutations in certain genes that are passed on from parent to child. Genes are the instructions that tell our bodies how to grow and function. Certain gene changes result in a greater chance for developing cancer.
Could you be at risk for hereditary cancer?
Cancer is a common disease, so a lot of families have a family member who has had cancer. Signs of a hereditary cancer syndrome include the following:
- Cancer that occurs at an early age (i.e. before the age of 50)
- Two or more close relatives with the same cancer or related cancers
- Cancer occurring in more than one generation
- More than one cancer in the same individual, especially certain combinations such as breast and ovarian cancer, uterine and colon cancer, or melanoma and pancreatic cancer
- A close relative with a rare type of cancer (e.g. male breast cancer, medullary thyroid cancer)
- Cancer that develops in both breasts, both ovaries, both kidneys, etc.
- Other factors associated with hereditary cancer syndromes, such as multiple colon polyps
If you have signs of hereditary cancer in your family, consult with a cancer genetic counselor.
Learn More About the Genetic Counseling Process
Frequently Asked Questions on Genetic Counseling