Cancer Genetic Counseling
Mutations are a factor in all cancers, but mutations associated with hereditary cancer syndromes can be inherited from a person’s parents. It’s estimated that inherited mutations play a role in the development of about 5 to 10 percent of all cancers1. Cancers commonly associated with family history include breast, colorectal, ovarian, prostate and endocrine2.
Patterns in family members may indicate a hereditary cancer syndrome. Some family history patterns that indicate an increased risk for a hereditary cancer syndrome are young age of cancer diagnosis, similar cancers in multiple family members, and certain combinations of cancer types. Genetic testing for hereditary predisposition to diseases such as cancer can help determine the following:
- If a person’s condition is the result of an inherited syndrome.
- Whether or not family members have a suspected gene mutation.
- If a person with no symptoms has the same gene mutation as known carriers in the family, and is therefore at increased risk of developing disease.
- A person’s chance of passing on a genetic disorder to children.
Predictive Gene Testing
Predictive gene testing, or pre-symptomatic testing, is the most common type of genetic test used to check for cancer risk3. Predictive tests are helpful for people who have a family history of cancer, but no symptoms themselves. These tests can identify mutations that increase a person's risk of getting a particular disease. Remember, a person with a genetic mutation will not necessarily get cancer. There are several factors that determine the likelihood of cancer occurring. Consult with a genetic counselor to understand your risk.
Hereditary Cancer Syndromes
Genetic mutations associated with more than 50 hereditary cancer syndromes have been identified, including the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes for breast cancer. Learn more about cancer syndromes with genetic testing available.
Should I be Tested?
Most people do not need to be tested for inherited diseases such as cancer. People with the following personal medical or family history factors (especially in combination) are the best candidates for genetic testing for cancers:
- Cancer diagnosed before age 50
- Two or more primary cancers or bilateral cancer
- Multiple individuals in multiple generations with cancer, especially of the same type
- Certain rare cancers (ovarian cancer, male breast cancer, sarcoma, medullary thyroid cancer, diffuse gastric cancer, adrenocortical carcinoma, pheochromocytoma, paraganglioma, Wilms tumor, retinoblastoma), especially when diagnosed at young ages
- Individual in the family with positive genetic test results in a cancer susceptibility gene, including BRCA1 or BRCA2
- Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry
Breast Cancer Considerations
- Breast cancer younger than age 50
- Ovarian cancer at any age
- Breast and ovarian cancer at any age
- Two or more primary breast cancers at any age
- Family history of multiple women in multiple generations with breast/ovarian cancer, especially including women with the traits outlined above
- Individual in the family with a positive BRCA1 or BRCA2 test
- Male breast cancer at any age
- Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry and a family history of breast and/or ovarian cancer
Genetic Counseling Appointments
If you are considering genetic testing, we recommend speaking to a genetic counselor beforehand to understand the risks, benefits and limitations of testing for your situation. Genetic counselors are specially trained, board-certified individuals who help people understand and adapt to the medical, psychological and familial implications of genetic contributions to disease.
An appointment with our board-certified genetic counselor will include:
- Review of the medical and family history.
- Education regarding role of genes in cancer and how cancer can be hereditary.
- Assessment of the personal risk for cancer as well as the likelihood of an inherited cancer syndrome being present in the family.
- A discussion of the risks, benefits, and limitations of genetic testing for the appropriate hereditary cancer syndrome(s).
- Facilitating communication between patients, families, physicians and insurance companies regarding test results and appropriate medical management based on the personalized risk assessment.
- Psychosocial support for the entire family as they make informed decisions regarding testing and treatment options.
For questions about genetic counseling for cancer, or to make an appointment with a genetic counselor, call the Community Health Network genetic counseling hotline at 317-621-8988. Select option 1 for cancer genetics or option 4 for general genetics questions.
To schedule an appointment, please contact an Indianapolis-area location below.