Genetic Testing and Counseling

About 5-10% of all cancers are inherited. This means that mutations in specific genes are passed from one blood relative to another. Individuals who inherit one of these abnormal genes have a much greater chance of developing cancer within their lifetime and at an earlier age. 

Common cancers associated with family history include: 

  • Breast cancer 
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Endocrine cancer

MD Anderson recommends that individuals with a family history of these types of cancer speak with their doctors about ways they can monitor and manage their increased cancer risks.


Am I at Risk for Hereditary Cancer?


In general, people at risk for an inherited form of cancer are of Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish ancestry or have family members who were diagnosed with:

  • Cancer at an early age
  • The same type of cancer
  • Two or more different cancers in the same person
  • A rare cancer, such as male breast cancer or sarcoma
  • A BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation

I Think I Might be at Risk. What Can I do?

Genetic Counseling

If you think you might be at risk for an inherited cancer, it's a good idea to meet with a genetics counselor. He or she will review your family medical history, talk to you about the role of genetics in cancer and perform a hereditary cancer risk assessment. This assessment will cover:

  • Your chances of having a genetic mutation
  • Personalized genetic testing recommendations
  • A general estimate of your personal cancer risks
  • Individualized cancer screening and prevention recommendations

Genetic Testing

Based on your cancer risk assessment, the genetic counselor may recommend that you undergo genetic testing. This simply involves having blood drawn. The results may help determine whether members of your family face higher risks for certain types of cancer. 

Keep in mind that genetic testing isn't for everyone. It involves many ethical, legal and social issues that require careful consideration. By having a genetic counselor evaluate your family history, you can make a more informed decision about whether genetic testing may be appropriate for you or your family.