Empowering You with Knowledge

When it comes to your health, knowledge is power. In order to understand your risk of developing cancer, it’s important to evaluate your risk factors, and to make plans to manage any potential risks. Genetic counseling and testing provides more than a plan. It can provide peace of mind for you and your family.                               

The Cancer Center at Overlake offers screenings to determine if you may benefit from genetic counseling and, if necessary, testing to manage risk for hereditary cancer. Genetic counseling and testing provides more than a plan. It provides peace of mind for you and your family. 

What Is Cancer Risk?

Cancer risk falls into three categories: sporadic, familial and hereditary. Family cancer history is important for early detection and prevention of cancer:

  • Family history (i.e. maternal grandfather, sister)
  • Type of cancer
  • Age at diagnosis

Sporadic Cancer

Most cancers fall into this category.

  • Occurs by chance
  • Family members often do not have the same type of cancer

Familial Cancer

  • Likely caused by genetic and environmental factors
  • One or more family members may have the same type of cancer
  • Cancer risk is not clearly passed from parent to child

Hereditary Cancer

This accounts for approximately 10% of cancers.

  • A mutated (altered) gene is passed from parent to child
  • Family members often have the same or related type of cancer
  • May lead to developing more than one type of cancer
  • Can develop at an earlier than average age

Note: Certain ancestries may have a greater risk for hereditary cancer syndromes (e.g. Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry)

Why Hereditary Cancer Risk Matters

If you have a hereditary cancer risk:

  • You have a much greater risk of developing certain cancers
  • If you have a gene mutation that leads to an increased cancer risk, your parent, children, and your sisters and brothers may have a 50% chance of having the same gene mutation
  • Genetic testing is the only way to identify gene mutations that may increase cancer risk

Red Flags for Hereditary Cancer

Anyone who has any one item from the two following lists may benefit from genetic testing:

Young Cancers 

Any one of the following cancers at age 50 or younger:

  • Breast cancer
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Endometrial cancer

Rare Cancers

Any one of these cancers at any age:

  • Ovarian 
  • Breast: Male breast cancer or triple negative breast cancer
  • Colorectal with specific pathological findings
  • Endometrial with specific pathological findings
  • Ten or more gastrointestinal polyps

How a Genetic Counselor Can Help You

A genetic counselor has specialized training in genetics, as well as counseling. Genetic counseling helps you:

  • Know if your family medical history puts you at higher risk
  • Determine if you need to receive genetic testing
  • Understand how genetic test results can help you and your healthcare team manage, prevent, or reduce cancer risk
  • Learn about the latest resources and research
  • Address privacy and insurance coverage questions/concerns you may have related to genetic testing

What is Genetic Testing?

Genetics is a rapidly-evolving field. Many genes can be associated with a single cancer, and multiple cancers can be associated with a single gene. If you receive genetic testing, your blood sample will be analyzed for several important cancers, including:

  • Breast
  • Ovarian
  • Colorectal
  • Uterine
  • Melanoma
  • Pancreatic
  • Stomach
  • Prostate

Frequenty Asked Questions

What Happens at a Genetic Counseling Appointment?

Your genetic counselor will assess your family history, discuss inheritance risks, and determine if genetic testing is right for you and your family. If it is, we’ll collect a sample (blood or saliva) and send it to a lab. We’ll also discuss your medical, psychological, financial and privacy concerns with care and compassion. Most insurance companies cover genetic testing services for hereditary cancer.  

How Do I Prepare for My Genetic Counseling Appointment?

You’ll meet with your genetic counselor at the Cancer Center at Overlake for about an hour. Before you come, please write down your family cancer history, on your mother and father’s sides of the family, including:

  • Who has had cancer (i.e. aunt, brother)
  • Type of cancer (i.e. colon, breast)
  • Age at diagnosis

How Do I Get My Test Results?

Your genetic counselor will call you with your results, usually two to three weeks after your appointment. Your results will be shared with your healthcare team if you have given permission for us to do so. Your genetic counselor will help you understand the meaning of your test results so you and your healthcare provider can make a plan to manage your health and cancer risk. 

Q+A with Genetic Counselor Kathy Shih