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Do your genes increase your risk for cancer?

Cancer is a common disease in the United States; roughly 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. Most of the time, cancer is sporadic - due to  multiple factors such as chance, environmental exposures, and lifestyle. Occasionally, cancers appear to cluster in a family and may have certain characteristics that suggest  the risk for cancer is running in the family. Maybe you were diagnosed with cancer less than 50 years old. Maybe there are three women in your family with breast cancer. Maybe your mom had breast cancer and ovarian cancer. Maybe your aunt had colon cancer and uterine cancer. Maybe the men in your mother or father’s family all seem to have prostate cancer.  If any of these examples sounds like your family, these may be signs indicating a hereditary cause for the cancer in your family.

Talk to your doctor about a referral for genetic counseling if you or a family member have had:

  • Cancer before age 50

  • Cancer more than once (either the same cancer or two different cancers)

  • Two or more relatives with the same kind of cancer

  • A family member with abnormal gene testing

Genetic counselors are health professionals who are trained to evaluate your personal history and family history to determine if genetic testing for hereditary cancers should be considered or if specialized cancer screening may be possible.  Genetic counselors will discuss the benefits, risks, and limitations of testing for you. 

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