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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
  • Certain ethnic background (e.g., Ashkenazi Jewish, French-Canadian, Icelandic, Scandinavian and certain Polynesian ethnic groups)
  • Rare cancers in the family (e.g., soft tissue sarcoma, pheochromacytoma)
  • Cancers generally associated with inherited cancer syndromes (e.g., medullary thyroid carcinoma)
  • 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 to identify high-risk families and at-risk family members. Counseling also includes a discussion of possible lifestyle and dietary changes and screening recommendations that may lower cancer risks. 

Genetic testing issues

The decision to pursue genetic testing is a personal one that needs to be weighed carefully. Some issues to consider:

  • Confirming that you have a cancer-predisposing mutation will not predict when or even if you will develop cancer, and won't prevent cancer from developing. But you might learn how to reduce your risk and you can be monitored more closely for early diagnosis.
  • Finding out that you don't have a mutation might help reduce your anxiety, but it could also be a source of guilt or conflict if other family members do have it.
  • Test results might imply information about other family members that they do not wish to know. Consider talking with your family before being tested.
  • Finally, there is a possibility that individuals who have never had cancer, but do have an increased susceptibility, could be discriminated against for 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 comprehensive genetic counseling, risk assessment and testing (when appropriate) 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: