A cancer genetic counselor meets with individuals and families to help them understand if they have a higher risk of cancer due to a hereditary cancer condition.  Most cancers occur due to non-inherited causes, such as changes with increasing age, and exposures such as tobacco use. About 10% of all cancers are hereditary.  In hereditary cancer families, multiple relatives have an increased risk for specific cancers. Families with hereditary risk can make informed medical decisions, to optimize cancer prevention and early detection.

There are several reasons you may see a cancer genetic counselor:


  • To understand cancer risks for you and your relatives
  • To discuss personalized cancer screening and prevention recommendations
  • To discuss available genetic testing options
  • To guide surgical and chemotherapy decisions for a cancer diagnosis.


Specific cancer histories signal that a cancer genetic counselor appointment is appropriate. These include a personal and/or family history of:


  • Cancer occurring at younger ages (such as breast, colon or uterine cancer before age 50)
  • Two or more separate cancers in one individual
  • Pattern of multiple close relatives diagnosed with cancers
  • Pattern of cancers that fits a known inherited cause (e.g. breast and ovarian cancers linked with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer, or colon and uterine cancers linked with Lynch syndrome)
  • Presence of a specific cancer: ovarian, male breast cancer, adrenal cortical carcinoma, pheochromocytoma or paraganglioma


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