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Understanding Your Hereditary Cancer Risk

Your genes may put you at a higher risk for developing certain cancers, including breast, ovarian, uterine and colorectal cancer. There are now more than 34 genetic markers available to help experts identify whether you may have a higher hereditary risk for developing cancer.

If you have multiple family members who have experienced cancer, you should consider genetic counseling to better understand your risk and what you can do to take preventive steps. Talking to your family members about their medical history and taking our genetic risk self-tests are the first steps to identifying possible hereditary cancer risk.

Facts About Hereditary Cancers

  • Between 5 percent and 10 percent of breast cancer cases in North America may have genetic influences.
  • 10 percent of ovarian cancer is hereditary.
  • Two specific genes, designated as BRCA1 and BRCA2, account for 85 percent of hereditary breast and ovarian cancers.
  • Approximately 5 percent to 10 percent of colorectal and uterine cancers are thought to be hereditary.
  • Hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC) is responsible for 3 percent to 5 percent of all colorectal cancers. It is the most common form of hereditary colorectal cancer. HNPCC also indicates an increased risk for developing uterine, stomach and skin cancers.
  • Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) is the second-most-common hereditary medical condition and puts you at serious risk for developing colorectal cancer. If either of your parents has FAP, you have a 50 percent chance of inheriting the altered gene.

Risk Factors and Genetic Counseling

Having certain risk factors is a good reason to seek a referral for genetic counseling to discuss your family medical history and potential risk of having a hereditary predisposition to cancer. If you or a close relative has had any of the following, you should talk to your physician or contact the genetic counselor at MidMichigan Health:

  • Breast cancer before age 50
  • Male breast cancer at any age
  • Ovarian cancer at any age
  • Endometrial cancer before age 50
  • Colorectal cancer before age 50
  • Several colorectal adenomas or polyps
  • Two or more members on the same side of the family
  • Pancreatic cancer or other atypical cancers, such as adrenal or medullary thyroid cancer

How Testing Can Benefit You

By exploring your risks through genetic counseling and testing, you could save your life - and quite possibly the lives of family members.

Testing can help you:

  • Gain reassurance by having a plan for surveillance and prevention if you are at risk
  • Know whether you need to consider medical options that may decrease your risks
  • Avoid unnecessary interventions for family members who did not inherit the altered gene
  • Explain the underlying cause of cancer in yourself or family members

The Cancer Genetics Program Can Help

The Cancer Genetics Program at MidMichigan Health offers information, personalized counseling and coordination or genetic testing to those with increased risk for developing cancer. The program’s goal is to identify people who may carry a genetic predisposition to developing cancer and provide useful information for them, their families and their health care team about the specific risks and how to reduce them. These strategies have been shown to lead to earlier detection of cancer, better treatment and improved health outcomes.

By reviewing a family and medical history, a counselor from the Cancer Genetics Program can discover if someone is likely to have a genetic change that increases their lifetime risk of developing cancer. If there is a likely risk, a counselor can coordinate appropriate genetic testing, a very important first step toward working with a health provider to implement vital screening and cancer prevention. If test results are positive and show a higher risk for cancer than seen in the general population, preventive measures and more frequent screening may be recommended.

What Will Happen at Your Appointment

A trained genetic counselor from the Cancer Genetics Program will meet with you for a personalized cancer-specific evaluation and risk assessment. The appointment usually takes about an hour. Your counselor will carefully review information about your family health history. It is best to provide this information prior to your appointment. You can either do so by telephone or fill out a family history questionnaire and return it by mail or fax. You should also think about what questions you want to ask during the session.

During the appointment, your counselor will help you understand more about genetic conditions, talk to you about any cancers for which you might be at risk and recommend screening tests for those cancers. If genetic testing is recommended, your counselor will provide information to help you make an informed choice about having the test, including costs, insurance coverage and potential benefits and limitations. When results are available, the genetic counselor will contact you to explain your results and provide support to help you explore what they may mean for you and the members of your family

View credentials for the genetics team at MidMichigan.

Additional Considerations  

Proceeding with genetic counseling and testing isn’t an easy decision. It can be complicated and emotional. That’s why our experts are dedicated to helping you thoroughly interpret your risks, and, more importantly, take a proactive approach to your long-term health.

Counseling and testing may involve expenses not covered by health insurance. If you have questions about insurance coverage, contact our genetic counselor at (989) 839-6185.

Cancer Genetics Fund

MidMichigan Medical Center - Midland offers a fund for charitable giving that helps qualified candidates receive genetic counseling and testing when they do not have insurance or the financial means to access this care.

To learn whether you may qualify for this assistance, contact our director of oncology services at (989) 837-6190. 

To help others receive this care, make a donation to the cancer genetics fund