Often people are concerned that a diagnosis of cancer in one or more close relatives means that they are at an increased risk for developing cancer themselves. For most people, a relative’s diagnosis of cancer does not greatly increase their own personal risk. Only about five to ten percent of cancers are genetic, or inherited. Cancer genetic counseling can help determine whether you may have inherited an increased risk for cancer.
Should I Be Concerned About My Family History?
You may benefit from talking with a genetic counselor if:
- You or a relative were diagnosed with cancer under the age of 50
- Several members of your family have had cancer
- You or a close relative have had more than one type of cancer
- You or a close relative have had a rare type of cancer
A family history of cancer does not necessarily indicate a genetic cause and may simply be due to chance or a common environment. We can help determine your level of increased risk.
What If I've Already had Cancer?
Many people who have already been diagnosed with cancer may have questions about their family history:
- What is my chance of developing a second cancer?
- What are the cancer risks for my siblings, children, and other relatives?
If you have already had cancer and are concerned about your family history, we encourage you to contact our cancer genetic counselor for consultation.
What Can Cancer Genetic Counseling Do for Me?
If someone has inherited an increased risk for cancer, their chance of developing cancer may be much higher than the general population. Because of this, it is important that they receive accurate information about their cancer risk and how to reduce it.
- Genetic counselors explain the biology and genetics of inherited cancer.
- Your concerns about family history of cancer will be addressed.
- You will be provided with an accurate and complete cancer risk evaluation.
- The possibility of genetic testing will be discussed. The decision to undergo genetic testing is a personal, voluntary one based upon informed consent.
- A summary letter will be sent to both you and your physician(s) detailing the discussion and reviewing any options currently available to you such as screening & management for cancer risk.
Family Member Records
Family member’s Genetic Counseling and testing records can be crucial to assessing your cancer risk. If genetic testing has been performed previously in your family, please ask relatives to provide a copy of their test results. They may need to request these from their provider, if so they may use this form:
Authorization to Use and Disclose Health Information
Referral and insurance
A referral from your primary physician is not necessary. However, genetic testing fees may apply and some insurers require a referral in order for genetic testing to be covered.
A Common Story
Genetic Counseling is an Important Step in Prevention
Susan’s older sister recently was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Through genetic testing, Susan learned she too was at risk to have inherited a genetic change in BRCA2, a gene that increases a woman’s risk of ovarian and breast cancer. Susan was stunned and confused about her own risk. She met with a cancer genetic counselor and learned that while her chances of inheriting the gene were high, there are many screening and surgical options available to women who are at increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer. The genetic counselor helped Susan take the necessary preventive measures and feel confident about her ability to reduce her risk and detect cancer early.
Deborah is 32 years old, she recently lost her childhood best friend to breast cancer. She has found herself worrying constantly about her personal risk and has visited her doctor three times in the past year to have clinical breast exams. On her third visit her doctor recommended she meet with a cancer genetic counselor to discuss her risk. Through genetic counseling Deborah was relieved to learn that her personal risk of breast cancer is less that that of the average woman. Deborah came to understand the importance of knowing one’s family history and will begin mammogram screening at the age of 40, as is generally recommended.
For more information
The Providence Cancer Center’s Genetics Program has a genetic counselor available to discuss your family history of cancer with you. To speak with a genetic counselor, contact the Cancer Center at (907) 212-6874.