Most cancers are sporadic, meaning they are dependent on environmental factors such as diet or tobacco usage/exposure and not heredity—less than 5 percent of 1.5 million annual cancer cases (predominantly breast, ovarian, and colorectal cancers) are based on heredity.
However, family members can pass inherited cancer gene mutations from generation to generation. MedStar harbor Hospital provides genetic counseling or testing (a simple blood test to detect the gene) to patients who believe they may be affected by a hereditary factor.
This knowledge can provide patient options—including close monitoring or surgery to preemptively remove the areas where cancer may develop—and it may lead to prevention for future generations.
How do I learn about my inherited cancer risk and what can I do about it?
Our certified genetic counselor specializes in genetically inherited cancers. She will meet with you to assess your inherited cancer risk. During your initial two-hour assessment:
- A family medical history will be taken
- The role of inherited gene mutations will be explained
- The likelihood that cancer-causing genes may have been (or may be) inherited by members of your family will be estimated
- Your likelihood of developing cancer (at some time in your life) will be estimated
- Ways to diagnose cancer at an early stage will be discussed
- Opportunities to lower your risk of cancer will be discussed
From that meeting, some patients may pursue further genetic counseling where psychological and financial concerns are explored before deciding whether or not to pursue genetic testing. The testing itself requires only that a small sample of blood be drawn and sent to a genetics laboratory for analysis.
If you are identified as high-risk, we recommend increased screenings and suggest you discuss other risk-reducing options with your physician.
Who should seek genetic counseling and possible testing?
Patients who have strong family histories of cancer, especially a diagnosis of cancer at an early age, or who are in treatment for breast or ovarian cancer - or who are breast or ovarian cancer survivors - should seriously consider genetic testing.
If you test positive for a cancer gene mutation, this information is of vital importance to all your blood relatives: sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews, cousins, children, grandchildren and other family members. Each family member has a 50:50 chance of having inherited the mutated gene.
Today, there is opportunity to practice good cancer prevention. Medical and surgical preventions are available as well as lifestyle changes and cancer screening. If your family members know that they are at increased risk of developing cancer, they can actually take action to protect themselves.
A personal choice
We recognize that genetic testing is a very personal choice. While the test itself usually involves no more than providing a blood sample, test results can be far-reaching. Our cancer risk assessment and counseling program is designed to answer your questions about:
- Risk assessment procedures
- DNA testing
- Benefits and limitations
- Psychological effect
- Family issues
- Insurance and privacy issues
- Employment issues
- Cancer education
- Cancer risk reduction
- Medical options
- Physician referrals