Cancer And Family History
Cancer is a group of diseases characterized by uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells. We now know that cancer happens when something goes wrong in our genes. A certain percentage of patients inherit mutated, or changed, genes from their parent. This is known as hereditary cancer.
How it Happens
Scientists believe that cancer begins when cells are exposed to cancer-causing agents or carcinogens. Carcinogens cause genetic damage–mutations–in cells. Mutations in genes that regulate cell division can cause some genes to work when they should not and others to stop working when they should. This can lead to unregulated cell division and cancer. It is believed that it is an accumulation of genetic mutations that eventually leads to cancer.
“Changed” genes can be inherited from one or both parents and can cause disease, or an increased risk for disease. Fortunately, not everyone who inherits a mutation, or changed gene will develop disease because the normal gene from the other parent is sufficient for the body’s needs. A family history study by a clinical genetic counselor can be beneficial for those who have a family history of cancer.
Family History Counseling
Because a family history of cancer can increase your risk of developing cancer, early identification can lead to intervention–and education–that may reduce the risk and mortality from cancer. With rapid advances in cancer research we can identify more that 120 hereditary cancer genes, and new genes continue to be found.
A complete evaluation determines the likelihood of inherited cancer and establishes an ongoing tailored prevention plan for health care depending on the risks. It includes an extensive review of family history, cancer risk assessment, identification and discussion of genetic testing, genetic and medical management and referrals to appropriate specialists, if necessary. It is a way for individuals to learn about the impact a family history of cancer has on his or her own health and the health of other family members. It provides high risk individuals with information for appropriate health care management. Some patients are reassured to find their personal risk is lower than expected.
Who Should Consider Genetic Counseling?
Anyone concerned about his or her risk for developing cancer can benefit from genetic assessment and counseling. If you have one or more of the following, genetic counseling is appropriate:
- a cancer diagnosis at an early age, particularly breast, colon or ovarian cancers;
- several family members with cancer;
- relatives with more than one type of cancer;
- bilateral breast cancer;
- rare or unusual cancers.
The Hereditary Cancer Program
Children’s Hospital Medical Center
The University Hospital Cancer Center
This Hereditary Cancer Program takes a team approach. The team of hematology/oncology, pediatric oncology, and genetic specialists includes physicians, surgeons, genetic counselors and others who will work with you, providing evaluations of your risk and helping you understand and use the information for appropriate screenings and health management. Services include:
- a complete evaluation of family history by board-certified genetic counselors and medical geneticists;
- risk assessment for familial and hereditary cancers;
- identification and discussion of genetic testing options;
- genetic information to be used as part of your personalized plan for health care
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