The Cancer Genetics Screening Program provides genetic counseling and testing to individuals who may be at increased risk of cancer due to a personal history of cancer, family history of cancer or an underlying genetic condition.

The Cancer Genetics Screening Program is part of the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Clinical Cancer Center. The goal of the program is to provide personalized counseling regarding cancer risk, cancer genetics, genetic testing, early detection, improved cancer management and possible risk reduction.

Gene Mutations and Cancer

Cancer—an uncontrolled growth of cells—may be caused by many things. Researchers are working to understand how normal cells, through genetic changes (mutations), turn into cancerous cells.

A mutation is a change of the DNA that is within a gene. Two types of gene mutations can cause cancer:

  1. Random gene mutations — most cancer is the result of random gene mutations that develop during a person’s life. A mutation may occur when cells are dividing or may be due to environmental factors, such as radiation or chemicals. These types of mutations are not passed on to the next generation.
  2. Inherited gene mutations — these mutations are passed down from generation to generation (inherited cancer predisposition). If a person is born with an inherited cancer gene, he or she has a higher risk of developing cancer, and the mutation can be passed to their children. About 5 percent to 10 percent of all cancers are due to a hereditary factor.

It’s not certain that people who inherit a known cancer susceptibility gene will actually get cancer. However, they have a much higher risk of developing cancer compared to the general population. In other words, people don’t inherit cancer from their families; they inherit an increased risk of developing cancer.

Many genes have been identified that play a role in certain cancers. For example, researchers have discovered genes that can contribute to the development of some forms of breast, ovarian, colorectal, uterus (endometrium), thyroid and pancreatic cancer and melanoma.

Understanding Family History

To help you understand your family history of cancer, the Cancer Genetics Screening Program at Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin offers:

  • Extensive review of personal and family health history
  • Assessment of cancer risk and the likelihood of an inherited cancer susceptibility condition in the family
  • Explanation of hereditary cancer and cancer risks
  • Provide information regarding the risks, benefits and limitations of genetic testing
  • Coordination and interpretation of genetic tests
  • Working with you and your health care team to develop a personalized screening and management plan

Education and Prevention

The Cancer Genetics Screening Program offers lectures for healthcare professionals and the community. To request a speaker from the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Speakers Bureau, please call 414-805-3666 (option 2). Our board-eligible and board-certified staff are also available to discuss prevention efforts, including recommendations for cancer risk reduction, screening and management.

Genetic Testing and Insurance

Genetic tests generally cost in the range of hundreds to thousands of dollars. Many insurance companies will cover the requested genetic test if it is medically appropriate. However, it is always a good idea to check with your health insurance company before having a genetic test, as insurance companies vary. A genetic counselor may be of help in this process. 

Federal and state laws prohibit health insurers from discriminating based on genetic information in most situations. State laws vary, and a genetic counselor can provide more information about the laws in your area. 

Research Studies

If current genetic tests are unable to clarify a person’s risk for a disease, a research study may be helpful in identifying a gene mutation. The Cancer Genetics Screening Program has access to ongoing local and national genetic research studies. Some individuals may be able to participate in various research trials. Participation may involve providing a blood and/or tissue sample to send to the study researchers.

Who May Benefit From Cancer Genetic Screening?

You may benefit from a cancer genetic screening if you answer “yes” to any of the questions below. When answering these questions, please consider both your mother’s and father’s side of the family.

  • Have several of your relatives had cancer, including cancers of the breast, ovary, skin, prostate, pancreas, thyroid, uterus (endometrium) or colon?
  • Have you or a relative developed cancer before the age of 50?
  • Have you or a family member had an unusual or rare type of cancer, such as male breast cancer?
  • Have you or a relative had more than one type of cancer, such as breast and ovarian cancer or cancer in both breasts?
  • Are you concerned about your risk for developing cancer?
  • Have you wondered whether you should have genetic testing for cancer genes?
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