Our 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, a family history of cancer or an underlying hereditary cancer condition.

The Cancer Genetics Screening Program is available at multiple Froedtert & MCW Cancer Network locations. The goal of the program is to provide personalized counseling regarding cancer risk, genetic testing, early detection, improved cancer management and risk reduction options.

Genetic Changes 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, turn into cancerous cells. There are two types of gene changes that can cause cancer.

  1. Acquired gene changes — Most cancer is the result of genetic changes that develop during a person’s life. A genetic change may occur when cells are dividing or may be due to environmental factors, such as radiation or chemicals. These types of changes are not passed on to the next generation.
  2. Inherited gene changes — A harmful change of the DNA that is within a gene is called a pathogenic variant (mutation). These changes are passed down from generation to generation (inherited cancer predisposition). If a person is born with an inherited pathogenic variant, they have a higher risk of developing cancer, and the pathogenic variant can be passed to their children. About 5 percent to 10 percent of all cancers are due to a hereditary pathogenic variant.

It’s not certain that people who inherit a known cancer gene pathogenic variant will actually develop cancer. However, they have a higher chance of developing cancer compared to the general population. In other words, people don’t inherit cancer from their families; they inherit an increased chance 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, uterine (endometrial), thyroid and pancreatic cancer and melanoma.

Understanding Family History

To help you understand your family history of cancer, the Cancer Genetics Screening Program offers:

  • Extensive review of personal and family health history
  • Assessment of cancer risk and the likelihood of a hereditary cancer condition in the family
  • Explanation of hereditary cancer and cancer risks
  • Information regarding the risks, benefits and limitations of genetic testing
  • Ordering and interpretation of genetic tests
  • Coordination 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 health care 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

The cost of genetic testing varies based on the type of test performed. Many insurance companies will cover the appropriate genetic test if it is medically necessary and certain criteria are met. A genetic counselor may be of help in this process and can help to facilitate a pre-authorization (if needed) for genetic testing at the time of the genetic counseling appointment. There is an office visit charge for the genetic counselor that is typically a covered charge and does not require pre-authorization. However, you may want to check with your insurance to see if there is a “genetics exclusion” on your policy.

Federal and state laws prohibit employers and health insurers from discriminating based on genetic information in most situations. See ginahelp.org for more information.

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 hereditary cancer condition. 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. Please speak with your personal care team to determine if a referral to cancer genetics is appropriate.

  • Have several of your relatives had cancer, including cancers of the breast, ovary, skin (melanoma), 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 or sarcoma?
  • 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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