Georgia's Online Cancer Information Center

Genetics & Cancer

The study of DNA continues to bring us closer to achieving the goal of personalized medicine. Healthcare providers are now able to assess risk and determine the best treatments for many diseases based on genetic information. Knowing the role of genetics can improve healthcare as well as the treatment outcome. 

In 2005 the United States Preventive Services Task Force issued a recommendation stating that “women whose family history is associated with an increased risk for deleterious mutations in BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes be referred for genetic counseling and evaluation for BRCA testing.”

Does cancer run in your family?

Cancer is common. Often, multiple family members within a single family will be affected by cancer and the diagnoses are usually random. There are specific types of cancers that run in families; this can be due to common environmental conditions (sunlight, smoking) or genetic mutations (changes) passed down in the family.

Only 5-10% of all cancer is hereditary

We cannot inherit cancer – we can inherit an increased risk. Cancer develops randomly about 90-95% of the time. The remaining 5-10% of cancer cases are hereditary, meaning that they are linked to a genetic change (mutation) passed down within a family. The most common hereditary cancers are breast, colon, melanoma pancreatic, prostate, and ovarian cancer, but there can be genetic links to other cancers. Inheriting a genetic mutation in a gene linked to cancer does not guarantee that you will develop cancer. It does, however, substantially increase your risk for certain cancers. To manage this risk, additional screening and/or risk reduction strategies may be suggested. Being aware of your personal and family cancer history as well as knowing the red flags of hereditary cancer are important parts of taking control of your health. Red flags are when:

  • Several rare cancers are within your family (such as kidney cancer, ovarian cancer, adrenocortical cancer, thyroid cancer, or male breast cancer)
  • You or your family members are diagnosed with cancer younger than 50 years old
  • There is more than one cancer diagnosis in a single person
  • Someone in the family has bilateral cancer (such as bilateral breast cancer, eye cancer, kidney cancer, etc.)
  • There are multiple childhood cancers within a family
  • There is a known mutation in a cancer susceptibility gene in the family

Appropriate genetic testing can inform health care planning, surveillance and management in order to minimize individual risk of developing cancer. If you are concerned that cancer may run in your family, genetic counseling can be useful to determine if genetic testing is right for you.

What is Genetic Counseling?

Cancer genetic counseling is performed by specially trained healthcare providers (licensed genetic counselors and nurses or physicians) who have knowledge in genetics, cancer, counseling, and hereditary cancer syndromes. Genetics professionals work with families to identify members who are at risk for a genetic predisposition to disease and order genetic testing when appropriate. In a genetic counseling session, your cancer genetics provider may discuss the following with you:

  • Your family history
  • Your personal history or risk of cancer
  • Whether or not genetic testing is right for you
  • The benefits and limitations of genetic testing
  • How you can decrease your risk for cancer

This information helps determine appropriate genetic testing and medical management recommendations for you and your family. 

Helpful Links

Contact us with questions

Feel free to contact Georgia CORE's genetics nurse, Cindy Snyder, csnyder@georgiacore.org, 404-584-1178.

Are you a healthcare professional?  Click here for genetics resources and references.

Last Updated: 3/28/2022 7:20:33 AM

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