Screening for Hereditary Cancers

Screening for Hereditary Cancers

A risk for certain hereditary cancers means that a person was born with a genetic mutation that will make this person more likely to get cancer than individuals without this. An inherited gene means it is passed from parent to child within a family. This genetic mutation may come from one parent or both.

Hereditary cancer is also referred to as familial cancer or “having cancer in the family.” Approximately 5% to 20% of all cancers are hereditary. Hereditary cancers are distinguished by:

  • Having multiple family members with cancer on the same side of the family
  • Having a single relative in the family with multiple cancerous tumors, particularly in the same organ

Understanding risk factors

A cancer risk factor is defined as something that increases a person’s chance of getting cancer. However, most factors do not directly cause cancer. Sometimes people with no risk factors develop cancer while those with multiple risk factors never develop it. Regardless, it is important to know your risk factors and discuss them with Dr. White or other healthcare provider.

The following factors suggest a possible increased risk for hereditary cancer:

  • Three or more relatives on the same side of the family with the same or related types of cancer.
  • Two or more relatives diagnosed with cancer at an early age. (This factor varies depending on the type of cancer.)
  • A relative who developed two or more types of cancer.
  • Rare cancers, such as ovarian cancer, adrenocortical cancer, or sarcoma, are associated with inherited genetic mutations.

Genetic testing for hereditary cancer

Genetic testing is done by taking blood or tissue sample that contains genetic material. It analyzes a person’s genes, chromosomes, and proteins to provide an approximate determination of your chance of developing cancer in your lifetime. It does this by searching for specific mutations in your genes, chromosomes, or proteins.

Genetic testing can:

  • Diagnose cancer
  • Identify “carriers” of a type of cancer (these are people who do not have the disease but have a copy of the cancer gene that can be passed down)
  • Determine the likely course a cancer will take

Some types of cancers for which genetic testing is available are:

  • Breast cancer
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Colon cancer

Portrait of Happy Family In GardenFamily information

Gathering information on the cancer history of in your family will be very helpful to Dr. White or other healthcare provider. Check with your first-degree relatives (parents, children, and full siblings) and second-degree relatives (grandparents, aunts/uncles, nieces/nephews, grandchildren, and half siblings) regarding their cancer diagnosis and make notes regarding the following:

  • Type of cancer(s)
  • Age at diagnosis
  • Was the cancer on the mother’s side (maternal) or on the father’s side (paternal)
  • Ethnicity (people of some ethnicities are at greater risk for certain cancers)
  • Results of any previous cancer-related genetic testing

myRisk Hereditary Cancer Panel

Multi-gene panel determines hereditary cancer risk associated with eight cancer sites:

  • Breast
  • Ovarian
  • Colorectal
  • Endometrial
  • Melanoma
  • Pancreatic
  • Gastric
  • Prostate

cancer cell made in 3d softwareThe myRisk test report provides recommendations for managing patients with positive or negative genetic results. It is important to be aware that no genetic test predict with absolute certainty if you will develop cancer. However, genetic testing can let you know if you have a higher risk than most people. It can also help guide the direction of your healthcare.

Genetic testing results will help with diagnosis or the management of a cancer. Dr. White may recommend surgery, medication, frequent screening, or lifestyle changes.

Other genetic testing factors to consider

Genetic testing has limitations. It’s also important to note the emotional implications of testing:

Depression, anxiety, or guilt

A positive test result means a gene mutation exists, which can provoke fear and anxiety. Reacting as if you are sick, even if you never develop cancer, is another possible response. Ironically, even a negative test result can promote a challenging emotional response, such as guilt that you do not have a gene mutation that other family members have.

Family relationships

Sharing your test results could affect the dynamics of your family relationships.

A false sense of security

While a negative result indicates that a specific genetic mutation is not present, it is still possible for people with negative results to develop cancer. A negative result only reveals that your risk is average. Your risk for cancer is also affected by other factors, such as your lifestyle, environmental exposure, and medical history.

Inconclusive results

  • A gene may have a mutation not linked with cancer risk, which is referred to as a variant of unknown significance. This means it is unclear whether the mutation will increase risk.
  • It’s also important to understand that some genes may interact unpredictably with other genes or environmental factors, resulting in cancer.
  • It is possible to possess mutations that current testing cannot reveal.
  • Some cancers have not been connected to specific gene mutations.

Portrait of an attractive elegant senior woman relaxing at home.Costs

Genetic testing can be expensive, especially if your health insurance benefits do not cover it.

Discrimination and privacy concerns

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) protects against employment and health insurance discrimination.


You will want to discuss your risk of cancer and your concerns with Dr. White. Before proceeding with genetic testing, you should think carefully about your reasons for wanting a test. It’s also important to think through how you will cope with your test results.


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For questions call: 972-294-6992