If you have family members who have had cancer, you may be concerned about your own chances of developing cancer. If you have been diagnosed with cancer, you may wonder about risks to your relatives and want to do what you can to stay cancer-free. Recent advances have been made in understanding the role that genetics plays in development of cancer.
Genetic counseling can help you understand how family history influences your cancer risk. This assessment can help you and your healthcare providers make a plan to lower your chances of developing cancer or to detect it early when it is most treatable.
At the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Cancer Network at Community Memorial Hospital's Cancer Care Center, a genetic counselor who can help you understand how family history may influence your risk of developing cancer. When several family members have been diagnosed with certain cancers, an assessment can help determine your risk profile and provide you with a plan. You may be able to take advantage of early and more frequent cancer screenings, lifestyle changes or other medical interventions to detect cancer early, when it is most treatable, or even prevent it. To learn more about genetic counseling for cancer, please talk with your physician or nurse. You can also visit froedtert.com to learn more.
How Cancer is Inherited
We’re all born with two copies of about 30,000 genes. We inherit one copy of each gene from our mother and the other from our father. Genes are the “blueprints” that determine traits such as the color of our eyes and if we have straight or curly hair. Inherited changes (mutations) in specific genes can lead to an increased chance of developing cancer. Approximately 5-10 percent of all cancer cases are due to heredity.
It Starts With Family History
Genetic risk assessment begins with a look at the pattern of cancer in the family. Analysis of the family history is the first step to estimating your risk of developing cancer as well as the chance that the cancer in your family is inherited. Genetic testing may be recommended in your family to determine your risk more precisely. Your genetic counselor will help you understand the benefits and limitations of genetic testing so that you can make a decision that is right for you.
Who Can Benefit From Cancer Genetic Counseling?
Cancer genetic risk assessment is important for families in which:
- several family members have been diagnosed with cancer
- cancer has occurred at a young age
- a family member has been diagnosed with more than one type of cancer
- a family member has been diagnosed with a rare cancer (i.e.: breast cancer in men)
- there is a known inherited cancer syndrome
- an individual who is concerned about his or her family history or cancer risk and wants to learn more about genetic testing even if the above features may not be present.
Managing Cancer Risk
Cancer genetic risk assessment can help guide healthcare decisions for you and your family. Knowing you have a higher cancer risk gives you the opportunity to manage risk factors where you can, and to detect cancer early. You may be able to take advantage of early and more frequent cancer screening as well as medication, lifestyle changes and/or surgery to reduce cancer risk.
Privacy and Insurance
You may have questions or concerns about genetic information and privacy. You can be assured that all information obtained through your assessment and testing will be kept confidential as all medical records are required to be. In addition, there are both federal and state laws that prohibit health insurers from discriminating based on genetic information in most situations. Most insurance companies cover genetic testing when medically indicated. Your genetic counselor can review the specifics of your situation at your evaluation prior to genetic testing.
For more information about hereditary breast and ovarian cancer, visit the FORCE (Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered) website.
For more information about cancer genetics and prevention, visit the National Cancer Institute website.