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Genetic Services for Cancer Diagnosis: When, Where, How

If cancer runs in your family, when do you need genetic services?

Many factors can be present in a family that may call for genetic services. Below is a general checklist of factors for you to fill out. These may suggest you have a higher risk for familial cancer or a heritable cancer syndrome. Ask your healthcare provider about your risk and if you'd benefit from genetic services.

Family history checklist

___ A family history of multiple cases of the same or related types of cancer

___ One or more family members with rare cancers

___ Several first-degree family members (father, mother, sibling, child) with cancer

___ Several people in your family have a type of cancer known to be linked to a certain gene mutation. For example, breast, pancreatic, or ovarian cancer may be linked to BRCA gene mutations.

___ Cancers occurring at an earlier age than normal in at least one family member, such as colorectal cancer before age 50 or breast cancer before age 40

___ Bilateral cancers, which is when two cancers develop independently in a paired organ, such as both kidneys or both breasts

___ One or more family members with two primary cancers (two original tumors that develop in different sites)

___ Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish background (linked to a higher risk of BRCA gene mutations)

Where to find genetic services

Genetic services are often available in large hospitals or health centers. Ask your healthcare provider to refer you to someone. Or check the Find a Genetic Counselor online directory to find someone in your area.

Genetic counselors are professionals with advanced, specialized training in counseling and medical genetics. They help people who are looking for information about inherited diseases and conditions. Genetic counselors help people interpret genetic results and their possible impact in a reliable, sensitive, and supportive way. They are not medical doctors, but they are part of the medical team.

Talk with your healthcare provider for more information.

How genetic services can help

Genetic services can give you:

  • Information about the significance of your family history in terms of your risk of developing cancer and the chance that you have a cancer genetic syndrome

  • A diagnosis of a cancer genetic syndrome by physical exam or lab testing

  • Details about the availability of genetic testing for cancer risk and the pros and cons of such testing

  • Information about how or why a cancer genetic syndrome occurred (in most cases)

  • Details about the chance for the cancer genetic syndrome to reoccur in the family and individual relatives’ chance of having and passing on a mutation in a cancer susceptibility gene

  • Advice for the management, screening, and treatment of the cancer genetic syndrome

  • Support groups for the cancer genetic syndrome

  • Connections to other families who have a similar, or the same, health problem

Online Medical Reviewer: Chad Haldeman-Englert MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Jessica Gotwals RN BSN MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: Sabrina Felson MD
Date Last Reviewed: 7/1/2023
© 2000-2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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