A family seated at a dining table for Thanksgiving.

How your family history can help determine your risk for cancer

Breast Cancer Screening, Cancer / Oncology, Genetic Counseling, Genetic Testing

Written by Justine Pickarski, a board-certified genetic counselor at the UK Markey Cancer Center.

Knowing your family history is a key part in understanding your risk factors for certain diseases. While you’re gathering with family this Thanksgiving, get to know more about your family’s health history and how it could impact your personal health.

Genetic counseling involves interpreting your family history and providing education about inheritance, testing options, management, prevention, resources and research. A genetic counselor can help you determine whether genetic testing may be appropriate for you or your family.

Genetic testing is available for many types of diseases, including cancer. Only 5 to 10 percent of cancers are hereditary, meaning they can be passed down through a family. However, people with hereditary cancers have a much higher chance to develop cancer during their lifetime.

Typically, patients may be referred for genetic counseling if they or someone in their family have cancer diagnosed at a young age (under 50 years old), or if they have multiple family members who have had cancer. If you have a strong family history of disease, talk to your doctor about whether a referral to a genetic counselor might be appropriate.

The most well-known hereditary cancer test is testing of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which cause hereditary breast and ovarian cancer (HBOC). However, there are many other genes that are known to cause hereditary cancers and testing is available for these syndromes as well.

For example, Lynch syndrome increases a person’s chance to develop several types of cancers, including colon, endometrial (uterine), ovarian and pancreatic cancer. It’s estimated that the prevalence of HBOC and the prevalence of Lynch syndrome are equal and affect 1 in 400 people.

There are many testing options, and a genetic counselor can help determine which test may be the best for you based on your personal and family history.

The cost of genetic testing for hereditary cancers can vary, based on whether we are testing just a few genes or a few dozen genes. In the majority of cases, insurance does cover testing if you meet certain criteria set by your insurance company. If insurance will not cover testing, many clinical genetic testing labs will perform testing for $250 or less, depending on financial need.

If results show you have a high chance to develop cancer, your health care team may recommend additional screenings or surgeries to find cancer as early as possible or prevent it from developing at all.

While knowing that you have a higher chance to develop cancer can cause worry and anxiety, it can also allow you to take charge of your health and take the steps needed to reduce the potential impact of this disease for you and your loved ones.

This content was produced by UK HealthCare Brand Strategy.

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