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Genes and Cancer

Does cancer seem to run in your family? Genetic counseling can empower you with information about your cancer risks, the likelihood that your family's history of cancer is hereditary, and options for genetic testing.

If you have cancer, the ability to use your genetic makeup for a more targeted treatment plan is a strength of the HonorHealth Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center. The goal of our genetic program is to prevent cancer, or to detect it as early as possible by identifying individuals at increased risk. We also have emerging opportunities to connect your treatment to your genetic makeup.

Related Story: See how Susan Morales discovered a gene that meant she'd get colon cancer just like other members of her family.

What is genetic counseling?

Cancer genetic counseling helps you and your family understand your chance of developing cancer. Hereditary cancers occur when a person is born with a mutation (gene change) in a gene, which normally protects against cancer. Inherited risk may be passed from either parent to child. Through genetic counseling and testing, you can determine if you or your family member's cancer is hereditary or more likely to be environmental.

If a predisposition to cancer is found, the certified genetics counselor will guide you through possible changes to your health management, such as more frequent screenings or having screenings done at an earlier age. Genetic counselors are highly educated in all aspects of genetics and are trained to communicate complex concepts in understandable ways. Genetic counselors provide a critical service to you by evaluating family history, and discussing the implications, limitations, and benefits of genetic testing. HonorHealth counselors are certified by the American Board of Genetic Counseling.

Consider genetic counseling if you answer YES to any of the statements below:

  • I have a personal history of cancer diagnosed under the age of 50 (not including non-melanoma skin cancer and/or cervical cancer).
  • I have two or more close blood relatives on the same side of the family with a non-smoking related cancer (such as colon, uterine and/or ovarian cancer).
  • I have two or more relatives on the same side of the family who have the same type of cancer (not including non-melanoma skin cancers and/or cervical cancer).
  • I have a relative who had cancer before age 50.
  • I have a family member who has had multiple cancers.
  • I am of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry and have a strong family history of breast and ovarian cancer.
  • I have a personal and/or family history of rare cancers (such as male breast cancer or childhood sarcoma).

Print out the information for the Cancer Genetics Risk Assessment and Prevention Program (PDF).

Do I need genetic counseling before having genetic testing?

Yes, genetic counseling is crucial to understanding the purpose, possible results and implications of a genetic test. Many genetic testing options are available; genetic counselors have the expertise and tools to choose the most appropriate genetic tests, testing laboratory, and technology for each patient. Some insurance companies require genetic counseling prior to covering a genetic test, to ensure appropriate testing.

Genetic testing involves taking a blood or a saliva sample to screen for genetic mutations related to increased risk of cancer.

Genetic testing may not be right for everyone. You will have a chance to discuss your situation with your genetic counselor before making a decision.

Getting Started

To make an appointment for genetic counseling call 480-882-4703 or if you have questions, please call our genetics program at 480-323-1231. We are open Monday - Friday from 8:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. We are conveniently located inside the Virginia G Piper Cancer Center on the 3rd floor, Suite 300.

Please note insurance coverage varies.

Most insurance companies cover the costs of genetic counseling and testing. Each insurance company has different policies regarding coverage. If you choose to have genetic testing you will be informed about any potential out-of-pocket costs or if a physician referral is required. Our team will help guide you through this process.