- Many types of cancer have a hereditary link, meaning you can inherit a risk for getting that cancer
- Cancer genetic counselors have special expertise in speaking with people and families to help them understand their risks
- There are multiple reason that you might consider talking to a cancer genetic counselor, including personal and family history of cancer
Many types of cancer have a hereditary link, meaning you can inherit a risk for getting that cancer. For example, you may have heard of BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. A person who inherited a genetic mutation in one of these genes has an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
Cancer genetic counselors have special expertise in speaking with people and families to help them understand their risk for cancer and how to be proactive with their health. They can help you decide if genetic testing is right for you, guide you through the process, interpret your test results, and give you recommendations on screening and prevention.
You might consider talking to a genetic counselor if:
- You have a personal and/or family history of cancer and wish to discuss whether a higher cancer risk could be running in the family
- You or family members have been diagnosed with cancer at an unusually young age
- You have had more than one type of cancer
- There are multiple people in your family with the same type of cancer (for example a mother, grandmother, and aunt with breast cancer)
- You are of Ashkenazi Jewish or other specific ancestry in which inherited cancer risk may be more common
Below you can find information about several types of cancer that have a hereditary link.
Breast and Ovarian Cancer
Besides the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes there are many other genes that relate to breast and ovarian cancer risk as well. Depending on the particular gene, there may be risks of other cancers to consider as well. These genes also may impact men, since males who carry these mutations are more likely to get breast cancer.
Consider visiting a genetic counselor to ask about an inherited risk of breast or ovarian cancer if any of the following apply to you:
- You have a family history, meaning:
- You have more than one close relative on the same side of the family with breast, prostate, pancreatic or colon cancer, or one close relative with ovarian cancer
- A genetic mutation has been identified in your family
- You have been diagnosed with breast cancer and:
- You are under 50 years old
- You have an aggressive type of cancer called triple negative breast cancer that was diagnosed when you were younger than 60 years old
- You have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer at any age
- You are of Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish background with a personal or family history of breast cancer
- You are a man who has been diagnosed with breast cancer or have a close relative with male breast cancer
About 10 percent of all colorectal cancers are inherited. Two of the more well-known types of inherited colon cancer are Lynch syndrome (hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer) and familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP). Many other genes have been found that increase the risk of colon cancer. There likely are other forms of inherited cancer, but scientists have not yet identified the genetic mutations responsible.
The vast majority of people who have papillary thyroid cancer (PTC) – the most common form of thyroid cancer – did not inherit the risk. People with very aggressive PTC and those with the more rare follicular or medullary types are more likely to have inherited the risk. Medullary thyroid cancer is one of the most aggressive of this type of cancer, and is strongly associated with mutations in the RET gene.
About five percent of all uterine cancer is inherited. The most common cause of inherited uterine cancer is Lynch syndrome. Uterine cancer may also be caused by other more rare hereditary cancer syndromes, including Cowden syndrome.
For additional resources related to at-home genetic testing, visit the Resources to Help You section of the site and use the "Cancer" filter.