It is natural to be concerned about your risk of developing cancer when a family member has struggled with a similar disease. Cancer often develops by chance. In some cases, however, there are genetic factors that increase your likelihood of developing certain cancers over your lifetime.
Dr. Anca Bulgaru, our expert in genetic counseling, can help you assess your risk of developing cancer, especially if you or someone in your family has been previously diagnosed. She guides patients and helps them understand genetic conditions and risk factors. She then counsels patients so they can make informed decisions about testing and treatment.
Hereditary Cancer Risks
Based on genetics, some people and their family members are more likely to develop certain types of cancer. Some “red flags” for genetic related cancers include cancers under the age of 50, rare cancers, and families having multiple members with cancer. These families often share a common genetic factor, or altered gene, that is inherited. People in these families have a higher chance of developing cancer than those in the general public. At least ten percent of all cancers are due to an altered gene inherited from one or both of the person’s parents that are passed down in families. People who carry such altered genes do not always develop cancer, but their risk of developing cancer at some point is higher than average.
The Role of Genetic Testing
Many different altered genes have been identified that can increase a person’s cancer risk. Genetic testing can be used to evaluate whether an individual has an altered gene associated with an increased risk of developing certain cancers such as breast, ovarian, colon, uterine, pancreatic, kidney, thyroid, and other cancers. If genetic testing identifies an altered gene (hereditary predisposition to cancer), the individual who carries the altered gene will be offered special cancer screening and prevention options which may play a key role in his or her healthcare decision.
Who Should Consider Genetic Counseling?
Individuals with any of the following factors may benefit from cancer risk assessment and genetic testing.
- Multiple relatives on the same side of the family with the same or related cancers, such as breast, ovarian, prostate, pancreatic, colon, uterine, stomach, kidney/ urinary tract, small bowel, and brain
- Cancer at unusually young ages, such as breast cancer (and DCIS), colon cancer, or endometrial (uterine) cancer diagnosed under the age of 50
- More than one cancer diagnosis in the same individual, for example, bilateral breast (cancer in both breasts)
- Ten or more precancerous colon polyps
- Rare cancers, such as ovarian cancer and male breast cancer
- Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry with breast or ovarian cancer at any age
- A family history of known, altered cancer-predisposing gene
- Triple negative breast cancer diagnosed under age 60
- Colon or endometrial (uterine) cancer with a specific histology – abnormal MSI/IHC under the age of 60
About Genetic Education & Genetic Testing
Genetic education includes a discussion of personal and family history of cancer. This information is used to determine an individual’s cancer risk and appropriate cancer screening and prevention options. Genetic education also includes an explanation of the scientific information related to genetic testing and which genetic tests may be useful.
Genetic testing may not be useful for everyone receiving genetic education. Genetic counseling does not require genetic testing. Deciding whether to have genetic testing is a personal choice that can be made at the time of genetic education or in the future. When genetic testing is performed, it is a simple blood test.
Overall, genetic counseling provides:
- Individualized genetic cancer risk assessment for you and your family
- Discussion of the benefits, limitations, and options for genetic testing
- A detailed interpretation of results, for individuals who choose genetic testing
- Discussion of appropriate cancer screening and prevention options