Learning About Your Cancer Risk
Some people have a higher risk for developing cancer because of lifestyle and environmental factors, as well as family history and genetics. If you have had cancer or have a family history of cancer, you may want to better understand your risk for developing future cancer. Our genetic counselors are healthcare professionals who specialize in medical genetics. They can help you understand your risk and recommend steps to help prevent cancer and detect it earlier.
Who Should See a Genetic Counselor
Your doctor may refer you to a counselor if you or your family has a history of cancer. Or you may decide on your own that you want to understand your cancer risk. You should especially consider genetic counseling if any of these are true for you:
- You or a close family member had cancer before age 50
- A close family member has two or more different cancers
- Two or more close family members have the same type of cancer
- Several generations of your family have the same or related types of cancer
- You have Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry (Eastern/Central European), and either you or your family member has a history of breast or ovarian cancer
- You or your family has a history of rare cancers, such as sarcoma or male breast cancer
- You have a concern about developing cancer because of family history
- You or your family has a history of breast and ovarian cancer, even if these cancers haven’t occurred in the same person. This could be due to a genetic condition called Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer syndrome (HBOC).
- You or your family has a history of colorectal cancer and/or uterine cancer, which could be due to a genetic condition called Lynch syndrome.
- What is Genetic Counseling?
What to Expect During Your Appointment
Before your visit, you’ll be asked to complete a Genetic Risk Assessment Questionnaire. You may need to gather information from your family members to complete this.
At your appointment, the genetic counselor will talk with you about your personal health history. The counselor will also review your family history using the information you’ve gathered. With a complete picture of your personal and family health history, the counselor can help you understand what risks you might have for certain types of cancers.
In some cases, genetic testing may be helpful to determine whether you have certain genetic traits that can indicate a higher level of risk. The counselor will make this recommendation and also talk with you about how testing may influence your healthcare plans and what it might mean for your family. Together, you and the counselor can determine if genetic testing is a good option for you.
If you choose to have genetic testing, the tests can be completed the same day or in a future appointment. Once the test results are ready, the counselor will talk with you to explain the results.
Understanding What a Cancer Risk Means
Your personal and family history and genetic testing cannot predict whether you’ll get cancer, what kind it will be, or when you’ll get it. These only indicate how high your risk is of developing certain cancers. While following general guidelines for healthy habits and regular cancer screenings can help prevent and detect cancer for most people, your counselor may suggest additional practices and guidelines specific to your risk. For example, if you have a genetic risk for developing colon cancer, it may be important for you to get colonoscopies more frequently than general guidelines suggest.
If you consider genetic testing, you should know that the Genetic Information and Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) makes it illegal for insurance companies to charge you more or deny you health insurance based on your results.
Setting Up an Appointment
Whether your doctor makes an appointment for you by referral or you choose to set up the appointment on your own, your visit can be scheduled by calling central scheduling at 920-738-6521.
If you’d like to speak to a counselor about any questions you have regarding genetic counseling, call the Martha Siekman Cancer Center at 920-380-1500.
Patient Appointment Template