Cancer Genetics

With Angelina Jolie’s recent revelation that she underwent a double mastectomy after learning that she had inherited a BRCA1 gene mutation, much has been in the news about genetic testing for cancer. In fact, only 10% of all diagnosed cancers are inherited. However, if a woman inherits a mutation in either BRCA1 or BRCA2, her lifetime risk for developing breast and/or ovarian cancer is much higher, but it’s not 100%. There are many options for screening and prevention available for these cancers.

If you have a strong personal or family history of cancer, genetic counseling and testing can help you learn your risk for developing cancer, reduce the risk and increase your chances for survival.

What is hereditary cancer?

Hereditary cancer is caused by mutations or changes in the genes. These genetic mutations can be passed down or inherited from either parent. If a parent carries a genetic mutation, there is a 50% chance that it will be passed along to the child.

What types of cancer can be hereditary?

Some common inherited cancers include: breast, ovarian, endometrial or uterine, stomach or gastric, kidney, thyroid, pancreatic and melanoma. Approximately 5-10 percent of cancers are inherited.

What is the difference between genetic counseling and genetic testing? 

Genetic counseling occurs before genetic testing is considered. It provides information and support for individuals who are at risk for having a genetic cancer syndrome. Through genetic counseling, our staff can evaluate family history, advise about available genetic testing options and discuss how testing may impact you and your family as well as the options for screening and prevention.

The Hereditary Cancer Program's board-certified genetic counselors are trained specially to assess cancer risk, develop plans to reduce risk and provide education. They work with the Northside Cancer Institute staff, connecting patients with expertise of specialists in oncology, radiology, gastroenterology and surgery.

Genetic testing is not for everyone.  Genetic counseling can help determine what is right for you. 

Cancer Genetics - What to Expect

Genetic testing usually begins with the individual in a family who has or has had cancer. Testing can also be done in someone likely to have a gene change.

When you come for an appointment, it helps to come prepared. Helpful information to know before your appointment:

  • Who in your family has been diagnosed with cancer?
  • Where did the cancer start? What type? Was it present in more than one place?
  • What age was the family member diagnosed with cancer?
  • Has anyone in your family undergone genetic testing?

Initial Visit

During the initial visit, you will have an in-depth consultation to examine your personal and family history.Our staff will draw a detailed family tree, or pedigree.

The goal of this visit is to understand how sporadic hereditary cancer develops, and how we assess you and your family's risk for different types of cancer. A genetic counselor will discuss genetic testing, explaining the different tests and results. This is a good time to ask any questions that you or family may have. If you decide to proceed with a genetic test, a genetic counselor will coordinate the process for you, including the blood draw and insurance coverage.

During the follow-up visits, the genetic counselor will review your results with you and help you understand the implications for you and your family. Also, the genetic counselor will review preventive and treatment options that may help you and your family reduce your risk of cancer. We will also work with your doctor and other specialists to ensure that all of your questions are answered and you receive appropriate medical follow-up. 

Insurance information

Most insurance companies will cover the cost of testing. Some people worry that the insurance company may discriminate because of a genetic test result; however, there have been very few documented cases of insurance discrimination and there are both State and Federal laws in place to protect individuals from such discrimination.

My Family Health Portrait - A tool from the Surgeon General

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Hereditary Cancer Program
Center Pointe II
1100 Johnson Ferry Rd., Suite 355
Atlanta, GA 30342
Phone: (404) 851-6284

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