Hereditary Cancer Program

With recent advancements in technology and increasing awareness due to attention from the media, much has been in the news about genetic testing for cancer risk. Overall, only about 5-10% of all diagnosed cancers are hereditary. These cancers are caused by a broken or mutated gene that is passed down in families from one generation to the next. Genetic counselors at the Northside Hereditary Cancer Program are specially trained experts that work with families who are concerned about their family history of cancer and are considering genetic testing.

What is hereditary cancer?
Hereditary cancer is caused by mutations or changes in genes that a person is born with that increase the chance they will develop cancer over their lifetime. The most well-known example of genes associated with hereditary cancer are the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes which increase a woman’s lifetime risk to develop breast and ovarian cancer.  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 each child. Men and women can inherited these mutations, and men and women can pass on these mutations. It is possible to inherit a mutation from a person who has not had cancer, which is why a genetics evaluation is so important.

What types of cancer can be hereditary?
The cancers most often considered for a genetics evaluation include: breast, ovarian, colon, endometrial or uterine, stomach or gastric, kidney, thyroid, pancreatic and melanoma. It is important to remember that only about 5-10 percent of cancers are inherited so most often any of these diagnoses are not due to an inherited risk.

Learn more about genetics counseling and testing for:
Breast and Ovarian Cancer
Colorectal Cancer

What is the difference between genetic counseling and genetic testing?
Genetic counseling occurs before genetic testing is considered. Genetic counselors provide a thorough evaluation of family history, a discussion of testing options, the cost of testing, insurance coverage, legal protections from genetic discrimination, as well as the implications of both positive and negative test results. Genetic counselors also help individuals understand how genetic testing might impact their family members as well since one genetic test has the potential to provide risk information for many family members at once.

The Hereditary Cancer Program's board-certified genetic counselors are trained 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.

Attend one of our free monthly genetics education classes at our Atlanta campus.

Cancer Genetic Counseling - What to Expect
Genetic testing is always most beneficial when it begins with the individual in a family who has or has had cancer. However, in some cases testing can also be done in someone without cancer because of the history in their close relatives.

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 in the body?
• 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 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 sample draw and insurance coverage. These days, genetic testing can often be done with a simple saliva sample.

Follow-Up Visit
Patients are seen in-person for their results. 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. The genetic counselor will also 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 both genetic counseling and genetic testing. When patients call to make their initial appointments, we provide detailed information on how to determine coverage for their visit so they feel comfortable making an appointment.

Some people worry that their 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.

Patients who wish to get started on collecting their family history information might use: My Family Health Portrait - A tool from the Surgeon General

For more information, call (404) 851-6284 or e-mail

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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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