All the genes in our bodies have a specific function. The job of many genes related to hereditary cancer is to repair cell damage. When one copy of a gene has a mutation, the gene will not work properly, which increases your lifetime risk of certain types of cancer. In addition, the chance of the second gene becoming damaged is high; putting you at increased risk.
A genetic counselor with specialized degrees in medical genetics and counseling can help you understand complex genetic information, guide you in making informed decisions and facilitate genetic testing. Specially-trained nurses can also perform genetic counseling and testing.
Genetic testing is performed on saliva or blood at a specialized laboratory to help detect any changes or mutations in specific genes related to hereditary cancers. Test results can tell you more about your risk.
You may decide to see a genetic counselor if you have a personal, maternal or paternal family history of:
- Breast cancer diagnosed before age 50.
- Ovarian cancer diagnosed at any age.
- History of male breast cancer.
- Breast and/or ovarian cancer at any age and Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish ancestry
- Three or more breast cancers on the same side of your family.
- Colon cancer diagnosed before age 50.
- Two or more colon and/or endometrial cancers on the same side of your family.
- Family history of melanoma or pancreatic cancer in more than one relative.
- Total of 10 or more adenomatous polyps of the colon.
- Personal history of multiple primary cancers.
- Certain rare cancers or tumors, such as medullary thyroid cancer, retinoblastoma, hepatoblastoma, adrenocortical carcinoma or pheochromocytoma.
What to expect at your genetic counseling appointment
At a genetic counseling session, you use personal medical information and family history, including cancer types and ages of onset, to construct a relevant family tree.
A genetic counselor will discuss your cancer risk based on this information as well as on the results of your genetic tests. You may also discuss appropriate screenings, surgery, medications and lifestyle changes to help reduce your cancer risk.
How to prepare
Talk to your relatives and gather all the information you can find about your family history, including:
- Types of cancer
- Ages, or approximate, of cancer diagnoses.
- Ages of death if no longer living.
- Genetic testing performed on family members (and a copy of test results).
- Your personal medical history, including surgeries, biopsies and screening results.
We are here to help answer your questions or assist you with scheduling an appointment. Call us today.