Genetic Services for Cancer Diagnosis: When, Where, How

If cancer runs in your family, when do you need genetic services?

Many factors can be present in a family that may call for genetic services. Below is a general checklist of factors. These may suggest a higher risk for familial cancer or a heritable cancer syndrome. The symptoms of genetic diseases may look like other health problems. Always talk with your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

Family History

___ A family history of multiple cases of the same or related types of cancer

___ One or more family members with rare cancers

___ Cancers occurring at an earlier age of onset than usual in at least 1 family member, such as colorectal cancer before age 50 or breast cancer before age 40

___ Bilateral cancers, which is when 2 cancers develop independently in a paired organ, such as both kidneys or both breasts

___ One or more family members with 2 primary cancers (2 original tumors that develop in different sites)

___ Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish background

Where to find genetic services

Genetic services are often available in large hospitals or health centers. The local phone book or healthcare provider directory may help you find someone near you. Talk with your healthcare provider for more information.

The National Cancer Institute has a website where you can search for cancer genetic providers by location. This Cancer Genetics Services Directory is a directory of experts who offer services like cancer risk assessment, genetic counseling, and genetic susceptibility testing.

How genetic services can help

Genetic services can give you:

  • Information about the significance of your family history in terms of your risk of developing cancer and the chance that you have a cancer genetic syndrome

  • A diagnosis of a cancer genetic syndrome by physical exam or lab testing

  • Details about the availability of genetic testing for cancer risk and the pros and cons of such testing

  • Information about how or why a cancer genetic syndrome occurred (in most cases)

  • Details about the chance for the cancer genetic syndrome to reoccur in the family and individual relatives’ chance of having and passing on a mutation in a cancer susceptibility gene

  • Recommendations for the management, screening, and treatment of the cancer genetic syndrome

  • Support groups for the cancer genetic syndrome

  • Connections to other families who have a similar, or the same, health problem