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Genetic Testing and Counseling

Only 10 percent of cancer cases are thought to involve genetic factors. But families with these factors have a much higher cancer risk than the general population. You may want a risk assessment if you have:

  • Personal history of cancer and/or family history of cancer in several relatives, especially before age 50
  • Personal or family history of multiple cancers in the same individual, or cancer on both sides of the body
  • Certain ethnic background (e.g., Ashkenazi Jewish, French-Canadian, Icelandic, Scandinavian and certain Polynesian ethnic groups)
  • Rare cancers in the family (e.g., male breast cancer, soft tissue sarcoma, gastrointestinal stromal tumor, pituitary tumor)
  • Cancer generally associated with inherited cancer syndromes (e.g., medullary thyroid carcinoma)
  • Personal or family history of a known genetic mutation linked to cancer
  • Particular anxiety about your personal risks of developing cancer

Cancer genetic counseling includes information on the genetic component of cancer and analysis of family history; a look at your family history may help point out those more likely to get cancer. Counseling also includes a discussion of possible lifestyle and dietary changes and screening recommendations that may lower cancer risks. Testing for genetic factors may or may not be suggested.

Genetic testing issues

The decision to get genetic testing is a personal one that needs to be weighed carefully. Some issues to think about:

  • Finding a mutation (a change in genes) that may cause cancer will not tell you when, or even if, you will develop cancer. However, you may learn ways to reduce your risk; also, you can be checked more often so any cancer might be found early.
  • Finding out that you don't have a mutation may help reduce your worry. But it could also add to a sense of guilt or inner conflict if other family members do have it.
  • Test results in one person may hint at information about other family members that they do not wish to know. Think about talking with your family about this before being tested.

Lastly, there is a chance that people who have never had cancer, but with a higher genetic risk for cancer, could be discriminated against.  This could be for life insurance or employment. The legal situation is still developing, although Oregon has strict laws protecting confidentiality and the federal Health Insurance Portability Act (HIPAA) also addresses privacy.

Counseling and testing at Legacy

Legacy Genetic Services offers complete genetic counseling, risk assessment and testing (when suggested) for those with an increased risk for developing cancer. For more information, 503-413-6534 or 1-800-220-4937.

More information

These documents were prepared by Legacy Genetic Services: