When you think about your family, are there many people who have had cancer? If there is a strong history of cancer in your family, you may wish to meet with a genetic counselor.
Some of the patterns that genetic counselors look for in a family history include:
- Two or more close relatives with cancer
- Cancer diagnosed before age 50
- More than one diagnosis of cancer in an individual (second primary)
- Several generations with cancer
- Unusual or rare cancers
- Ethnicity (for example, Ashkenazi Jewish)
Genetic counselors look for these patterns to determine if cancer could be hereditary. "Hereditary" means that there could be a genetic cause for the cancer in the family. When we think about genetics, we are talking about DNA. DNA is the instruction book for our body. Just like a book, DNA can be broken down into chapters, sentences, and letters. Genes are the sentences of DNA.
Sometimes prostate cancer or certain types of kidney cancer can be hereditary. One example of hereditary kidney cancer is a condition called von Hippel-Lindau syndrome, or VHL. If someone has VHL, he or she has increased risks to develop "clear cell" renal cell carcinoma of the kidney, usually found at younger ages. Individuals with VHL have higher risks to develop other tumors and cancers. If you have VHL, your doctors will help you make decisions about cancer screening and ways to reduce your cancer risks. There can be other genetic causes for kidney cancer. If you or your relatives have had kidney cancer diagnosed before the age of 50, you might want to ask your doctor if you should meet with a genetic counselor.
Since prostate cancer is common among men, most cases are not hereditary. If you or your relatives have had prostate cancer diagnosed at early ages, or there are other cancers in the family, like breast or ovarian cancer, you may want to ask your doctor if you should meet with a genetic counselor.
What is Genetic Counseling?
Genetic counseling is the process of helping people understand and adapt to the medical concerns in their family. Genetic counselors help people make informed decisions about their health and genetic information.
Genetic counselors work in a variety of areas including pregnancy care and planning, pediatrics, cancer, and others. Genetic counseling is specific to your needs and the information you are seeking. Carle Cancer Center offers genetic counseling services. Your team can work with you to set up an appointment.
How to Prepare for Your Cancer Genetic Counseling Appointment
A typical genetic counseling visit includes:
- Discussion of medical history
- Collection of family history
- Discussion of how cancer risks can be passed down in a family
- Discussion of cancer prevention options and screening
- Review of genetic testing options
- Provide supportive counseling
People who have genetic counseling may have one visit, while other people meet with a genetic counselor every few years. Since information about cancer genetics is growing, and new testing options or recommendations may become available, you may wish to follow-up with a genetic counselor even if you had genetic counseling in the past.
You may want to gather some information before meeting with a genetic counselor. You may not be able to get all of the details, but the more information you have, the more your genetic counselor can help.
- Ask your relatives about medical conditions in the family, especially if someone has had cancer. How old were they when the cancer was diagnosed? Has anyone had genetic testing in the family?
- Gather any medical records of your cancer history or family history, especially if testing, diagnosis, or treatment were not performed at Carle Foundation Hospital.
- Bring a list of questions to your appointment.