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Genetic Counseling

Many national organizations recommend that cancer patients undergo genetic testing if a review of their family history suggests their cancer may be inherited. At the Eleanor N. Dana Cancer Center, cancer patients and their families undergo genetic testing through our Clinical Cancer Genetics Service.

Why does it matter if my cancer is inherited?

If your cancer is caused by genetics — not by chance — you may be monitored more closely. It could have implications for your treatment.

It's also important to know if your cancer is inherited because your family members may be at increased risk of getting cancer, and at an earlier age. Earlier and more frequent screenings may help reduce that risk.

Your medical team will go over your family and medical history to generate a family tree. Based on your history, the genetics counselor discusses whether the pattern of cancer may be hereditary and what that means for you, including options for genetic testing.

How is genetic testing performed?

Technicians use blood or tissue samples to look for genetic mutations (inherited DNA changes) that may lead to an increased risk for some cancers.

Genetic testing is most accurate when performed on the person with a cancer diagnosis. It can take place any time in the cancer treatment process. Occasionally, testing may be performed just after diagnosis since results could influence your medical or surgical management.

When genetic testing is complete, your health care team members discuss the results and appropriate follow-up with you. They may suggest:

  • How to reduce your cancer risk
  • Cancer screening strategies
  • Chemoprevention (oral drugs like Tamoxifen that can help prevent cancer)
  • Preventative surgery

Depending on your results, your physicians also may suggest clinical trials or precision medicine treatments that target your specific cancer.

Clues to inherited cancers

If you fit into one of the following categories, you may want to consider genetic testing:

  • Younger than age 40 to 50 when diagnosed with an adult-onset cancer
  • Multiple cancers in a single individual
  • Multiple cancers in close relatives, particularly in multiple generations
  • A known relationship between cancers in the family (ovarian and breast cancer in the same family, ovarian and colon cancers in the same family, etc.)
  • Benign lesions associated with increased cancer risk (for example, more than 20 colon polyps in a lifetime)
  • Recognizable inheritance patterns or lack of a pattern (for example, three generations affected by cancers suggests dominant inheritance, or three siblings with cancer with unaffected parents suggests recessive inheritance)
  • An ethnicity with an increased risk for certain hereditary cancers (such as Ashkenazi Jewish)
  • Rare tumor types (such as male breast cancer or medullary thyroid cancer) regardless of family history

To get more information about genetic testing at the Eleanor N. Dana Cancer Center, contact the Clinical Cancer Genetics Service at 419-383-6644 or request a genetic counseling referral from your care team.

genetic counseling

Last Updated: 6/27/22