How do I know if I should have genetic testing done?

About 5-10 percent of all cancers are believed to be related to gene mutations that are inherited. Having an inherited genetic mutation does not mean you will get cancer. It means you are at a higher risk for developing a certain type or types of cancer.

Genetic testing looks for inherited gene mutations. It’s usually recommended when certain types of cancer run in a family and a gene mutation is suspected. You might consider having genetic testing done if:

  • You have several first-degree relatives (mother, father, sisters, brothers, children) with cancer.
  • Many relatives on one side of your family have had the same type of cancer.
  • A cluster of cancers in your family are known to be linked to a single gene mutation (such as breast, ovarian, colorectal, and pancreatic cancers in your family).
  • A family member has more than one type of cancer.
  • Family members have had cancer at a younger age than normal for that type of cancer.
  • Close relatives have cancers that are linked to hereditary cancer syndromes.
  • A family member has a rare cancer, such as breast cancer in a man, ovarian cancer, pancreatic cancer or metastatic prostate cancer.
  • If your family ethnicity is tied to a specific type of cancer (for example, Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry is linked to ovarian and breast cancers).
  • A physical finding is linked to an inherited cancer (such as having many colon polyps).
  • One or more family members have already had genetic testing that found a mutation.

Will genetic testing tell me if I will get cancer?

No genetic test can say if you will develop cancer for sure. Most people who develop cancer do not have a known inherited gene that is linked to cancer. Genetic testing can tell you if you have a higher risk than most people. Genetic testing helps estimate your chance of developing cancer in your lifetime by searching for specific changes in your genes, chromosomes or proteins. These changes are called mutations. For patients concerned about breast cancer risk, if no mutations are found, our team will use other risk calculators to identify your cancer risk

What kinds of cancers can you test for?

 Genetic tests are available for most hereditary forms of cancer. These include:

  • Breast cancer
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Uterine cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • Thyroid cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Melanoma 
  • Sarcoma
  • Kidney cancer
  • Stomach cancer

How does genetic counseling work?

Genetic counseling at our Cancer Genetics Center typically requires up to two visits. During your first appointment, a genetic counselor will analyze your personal and family history, explain hereditary cancer syndromes, review the risks, benefits and limitations of genetic testing, and discuss the most appropriate genetic testing options for your family.

If genetic testing is appropriate and desired, the process of genetic testing and/or insurance pre-authorization can be started during the first appointment. At the second visit, your genetic counselor will share the results of your genetic testing, discuss your family’s risk of developing cancer and explain your options for managing your medical risk to help prevent the occurrence of cancer. Options may include medication, frequent screening, preventive lifestyle changes or prophylactic (preventive) surgery.

Will insurance cover the cost of genetic counseling and testing?

In many cases, health insurance plans will cover the costs of genetic counseling and testing when the personal and/or family history is suggestive for a hereditary form of cancer. However, health insurance providers have different policies about which tests are covered. Your genetic counselor can determine if your insurance will cover genetic testing. 

Does genetic counseling involve other members of my family?

Because genes are inherited from family members, genetic testing may also benefit other close members of your family. A genetic counselor can review your family tree and determine which other family members may be at risk of developing cancer. If you desire, the counselor can counsel them about the option of genetic testing, their risk of developing cancer and their medical management options.

Will the results of my genetic testing remain confidential?

People considering genetic testing should understand that their results may become known to other people or organizations that have legitimate, legal access to their medical records, such as their insurance company or employer, if their employer provides the patient’s health insurance as a benefit. However, legal protections are in place to prevent genetic discrimination, including the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 and the Privacy Rule of the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. Health insurers may not use genetic information to set eligibility, premium or contribution amounts. Employers may not use genetic information to make decisions involving hiring, firing, job assignments and promotions.