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Frequently Asked Questions

Learn more about cancer risk assessment, genetic testing for cancer susceptibility, and other services at the Cancer Genetics Program.

People might be interested in a genetic consultation for many reasons.

Some of the most common reasons are to:

  • Understand how genetic testing may provide information that could help in surgical or other treatment decisions for patients with a cancer diagnosis.
  • Learn the risk of developing cancer for themselves or their children.
  • Find out if genetics played a role in their personal cancer diagnosis or that of a family member's.
  • Obtain information about cancer screening tests — such as mammography or colonoscopy — and how often they should be performed.
  • Obtain information about cancer risk-reducing interventions.
  • Learn about cancer risk factors
  • Explore the feasibility of genetic (DNA) testing for cancer-predisposing genes.

A cancer genetics consult provides:

  • Details on how inherited and environmental factors may cause cancer in a person or their family.
  • Estimated risks for certain cancers for the individual based on age, family history, and other risk factors.
  • Facts about genetic testing.
  • Facts about cancer screening.

Learning this may relieve anxiety, provide a sense of control, and play a role in maintaining good health.

At your visit — which takes about 60 minutes — you will meet with a with a genetic provider. They will review your personal medical and family histories.

The consult team will:

  • Review your family tree and the possible role of a hereditary susceptibility in your personal and/or family's cancer history.
  • Address any emotional concerns about cancer risk.
  • Based upon the personal and family history, genetic testing will be recommended if appropriate.

If genetic testing is recommended, then the consult team will:

  • Discuss the risks, benefits, and limitations of cancer genetic testing.
  • Review how the results could be used in cancer treatment and other possible medical management for you and your family.
  • Perform testing after your complete risk assessment.
  • Obtain your written informed consent before obtaining a blood or saliva sample for genetic testing.
  • Discuss your genetic test results and implications over the phone once they are available.

If genetic testing is not indicated, then the consult team will:

  • Explain why genetic testing is not appropriate for you and possible explanations for the cancer in your and/or your family.
  • Complete a risk assessment and review estimated risks for specific cancers based on age, family history, and other risk factors.
  • Suggested cancer screening tests you should have and how often you should have them.

Once you have a consult through the Cancer Genetics Program, you may find it helpful to see other specialists to learn about preventive surgery or to seek counseling to help cope with the worry cancer risk may cause.

We work very closely with all cancer specialists, including:

  • Surgical oncologist
  • Medical oncologists
  • Radiologists
  • Pathologists
  • Gastroenterologists
  • Ethicists
  • Psychologists

As a team, we can provide patients who have an increased risk for cancer the most updated data on cancer screening and risk management.

Yes. We welcome you to bring a support person with you to your visit. However, it is not necessary to bring a support person and you may wish to come alone.

Any person concerned about their personal or family history of cancer may find value in a risk assessment.

However, we recommend cancer genetics consults specifically for:

  • Families that have two or more relatives on the same side of the family with the same type of cancer or with related cancers — such as breast, ovarian, or colon cancers.
  • People who have a personal or family history of:
    • Cancer such as breast, ovarian, or colon cancer that occurred at an early age — before the age of 45.
    • Primary cancers in both breasts, ovaries, kidneys, or adrenal glands.
    • Two different primary cancers — such as primary breast and ovarian cancers, primary breast and colon cancers, or primary uterine and colon cancers.
    • A rare cancer that is more likely to be related to a hereditary cause – such as male breast cancer, retinoblastoma, medullary thyroid cancer, or pheochromocytoma.
    • A cancer that has a higher likelihood of being related to a genetic cause, such as ovarian, pancreatic, or metastatic prostate cancer.
    • A known pathogenic variant cancer-predisposition gene.

A complete family tree is one of the most important pieces of information for learning if the cancer in your family is due to an inherited predisposition and also your overall cancer risk estimates.

When you make an appointment for a cancer genetics consult, we will ask who in your family has been diagnosed with cancer. We'd like data on three generations of family members — reaching as far back as your grandparents.

We may also ask if you're comfortable getting written consent for your relatives' medical records so we can review them.

If necessary before your visit, we will fill out and send you a medical records release form with instructions for each of your relatives for whom you've requested records.

During the visit, we will ask you many questions about all of your relatives — including those who have had cancer and those who have not.

For relatives who have had cancer, we will want to know:

  • Who they are in relation to you.
  • How old they were when they were diagnosed with a cancer.
  • Where in the body the cancer started (which organ).
  • Current age if still living or their age when they passed away.

For living relatives who have not had cancer, we will want to know:

  • Their current ages.
  • About their health conditions.
  • If they have had any surgeries.

For deceased relatives who did not have cancer, we will want to know:

  • How old they were when they passed away.
  • Their cause of death.
  • If they had serious health problems during their lifetimes.

We realize that many people may not have all the answers to each of these questions. It may be a good idea to talk to older family members before you schedule a consult.

Please know that we will still see you, even if you have limited knowledge of your relatives' health status or are unable to have medical records released to us.

Some insurance companies will cover all or part of the cost of consultation and genetic testing as an outpatient visit.

Because each insurance company differs and may change coverage terms over time, we suggest that you check with your plan directly.

We're happy to help you gather the necessary information — such as procedure codes — so you can find out if your plan will cover your visit and testing. Feel free to call the Cancer Genetics Program at 1-800-454-8156.

No. You can self-refer to the Cancer Genetics Program or you can have any health care provider refer you.

Yes, we will send a consult letter and your genetic test results to the providers you indicate.

To make an appointment or refer a patient, call the Cancer Genetics Program at 1-800-454-8156.

Our office is open Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. During evenings and weekends, you can leave a message.