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Frequently Asked Questions

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

People want to know their cancer risk for many reasons.

The most common reasons are to:

  • Learn the risk of cancer for themselves or their children.
  • Find out if inheritance played a role on their cancer diagnosis or that of a family member's.
  • Obtain details about cancer screening tests — such as mammography or colonoscopy — and how often they should have them.
  • Make decisions about the use of hormone replacement therapy or preventive surgery.
  • Explore the feasibility of genetic (DNA) testing for cancer-predisposing genes.

A cancer risk consult provides:

  • Details on how inherited and environmental factors may cause cancer in a family or person.
  • Accurate information about a person's cancer risk.
  • Facts about cancer screening and genetic testing.

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

At your first visit — which takes about 1 to 1 1/2 hours — you will meet with a doctor who is a medical geneticist and with a genetic counselor. They will completely review your family and medical histories.

After finding your primary concern, the consult team will provide:

  • An estimate of your risks for specific cancers based on your age, family history, and other factors.
  • A complete analysis of your family tree and the possible role of genetics in your family's cancer.
  • Suggested cancer screening tests you should have and how often you should have them.

They'll also discuss:

  • The availability of genetic testing for certain cancers.
  • The pros and cons of genetic testing.
  • Any emotional issues about cancer and risk.

In most cases, one visit is enough to allow us to give you details on the role genetics plays in your family's cancer and what your risk of cancer may be.

You might need to schedule a second visit if we need more details about your relatives before we can give a complete cancer risk assessment. If you need a second visit to discuss risk, you can schedule it once you've gathered the additional information.

In cases where genetic testing seems reasonable, we will:

  • Perform testing after your complete risk assessment.
  • Obtain your informed consent before drawing any blood for genetic testing.
  • Discuss your genetic test results at a later visit.

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:

  • Cancer surgeons
  • Oncologists
  • Radiologists
  • Pathologists
  • Gastroenterologists
  • Oncology nurses
  • Ethicists
  • Psychologists

As a team, we can provide people at high risk for cancer the most advanced data on cancer screening and risk management.

Yes. We welcome you to bring a support person — such as your spouse or significant other — with you to your first cancer risk visit. In fact, we encourage you to bring a loved one since the first visit concentrates on reviewing the family history and your medical history in detail.

If some issues in your medical history are private and not known to your loved ones, you may want to come alone.

Any person concerned about his or her family or personal history of cancer can find value in a risk assessment.

However, we recommend cancer risk consults specifically for:

  • People who have several first-degree relatives — parents, sisters, brothers, children — with cancer.
  • 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 had, or whose relatives have had:
    • Cancer that occurred at an early age — before the age of 50 — such as breast, ovarian, or colon cancer.
    • 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 form of cancer — such as male breast cancer, retinoblastoma, medullary thyroid cancer, or sarcoma.
    • An inherited health problem — such as multiple intestinal polyposis, neurofibromatosis, or Cowden disease — where cancer occurs more frequently than in the general population.
    • A known altered, cancer-predisposing 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 tendency and also your overall risk of cancer.

When you make an appointment for a cancer risk consult, we will ask who in your family has had cancer. We'd like data on three to four generations of family members — reaching as far back as great-grandparents and forward to include children and later generations.

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

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 first 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.
  • How old they were when they received a cancer diagnosis.
  • Where in the body the cancer started (which organ).
  • If they're living or deceased.

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 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.

All of the records from your visit to the Program are confidential.

We will maintain some of your records in a private, locked office, while others will become part of the general electronic record.

Please note: insurance companies can access your records to submit a consultation or genetic testing bill.

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.

If your doctor refers you to the Cancer Genetics Program, we will send him or her a consult letter and your genetic test results.

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.