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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.

If the self-tests indicate that you have one or more hereditary risk factors, talk to your doctor about genetic counseling and testing. MidMichigan Health's Pardee Cancer Center also offers genetic counseling and testing services.

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.

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

Genetic Counseling Process 

Upon your doctor's identification of your potential risk factors, you may be referred to our breast health nurse. She will review your self-test and your family history and further assess your personal risks.

If additional testing is appropriate, you will be referred to a genetic counselor. Under the guidance of a supervising physician who specializes in genetics, the counselor will:

  • Help you decide whether to undergo specific genetic tests
  • Provide you with support and guidance should you choose testing
  • Create a plan for you and your family that may include recommendations for ongoing surveillance and preventive measures

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 important, 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, please discuss them with your genetic counselor during your appointment.

For more information, contact our genetic counselor in Midland at (989) 839-6185, or at MidMichigan Gratiot Cancer Center  in Alma at (989) 463-9307 or toll free at (800) 981-1712.

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