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Is a genetic risk assessment right for me?

Main Line Health July 7, 2014 General Wellness

Mom’s hair, Dad’s eyes…Grandma’s cancer risk? Just as we inherit physical qualities like height and eye or hair color from our family members, we can also inherit an increased risk of cancer. Although a family member’s cancer diagnosis doesn’t guarantee that you’ll have the same diagnosis in the future, it can contribute to an increased risk.

“Approximately 10 percent of cancer cases are caused by genes passed from one generation of a family to the next,” explains Rachael Brandt, PhD, genetic counselor with Main Line Health’s Cancer Risk Assessment and Genetics Program. “A family history of cancer, particularly if it is diagnosed at a younger age or affects multiple relatives, can be an indicator of an inherited risk.”

As awareness about the role of genetics in cancer risk continues to increase, many hospitals and health programs have begun offering genetic risk assessments, which offer those with a family history of cancer the opportunity to participate in a series of evaluations to help better understand their risks for cancer and ways to manage these risks. In some cases, genetic testing may be offered to better assist with this process. At Main Line Health, cancer risk assessment and related genetic testing is available through Lankenau Medical Center, as well as Bryn Mawr, Paoli and Riddle hospitals.

Am I a candidate?

To determine whether or not a genetic risk assessment is right for you, answer the following questions about your family’s history of cancer:

  • Does cancer seem to run in your family?
  • Have you or any of your family members been diagnosed with cancer at a young age (i.e., under age 50)?
  • Have you or any of your family members had more than one cancer diagnosis?
  • Have you or any of your family members had a rare cancer, like ovarian cancer, sarcoma or male breast cancer?
  • Do any of your relatives have a gene mutation that increases cancer risk?

If you can answer ‘yes’ to one or more of these questions, you may wish to talk with a genetic counselor about whether participation in a genetic risk assessment program could be right for you.

What happens in these programs?

Candidates choosing to pursue a cancer risk evaluation meet with a genetic counselor, who will help determine what the appropriate next steps should be.

“Our genetic risk assessment programs at Main Line Health tailor services to the unique needs of each individual,” says Brandt. “For some patients, genetic testing is helpful in determining cancer risk, but for others, a risk assessment based only on family or personal history, along with genetic counseling, may be sufficient or preferred. It really depends on each individual case.”

Regardless of which course of action is determined to be best, Brandt reassures anyone thinking about participating in the programs can benefit from the services offered.

“Participants in these programs are equipped with knowledge about their cancer risks and potential early detection and prevention options they can then share with their health care providers and their loved ones. They have information that’s customized to their specific health history,” she says. “That’s a valuable resource to help in taking charge of your health."

Genetic consultation and testing are covered by most insurance plans, however, certain criteria may apply. If you think you may be a candidate for genetic testing, contact the Cancer Risk Assessment & Genetics Program at 484.565.GENE (484.565.4363) Monday–Friday, 8:00 am–4:00 pm.