Genetic counseling can provide insight
Knowing family history is a key part in understanding the risk factors for certain diseases. While you’re gathering with family this holiday season, share a bit about your family’s health history and how it could impact your health or the health of a loved one.
Genetic counseling involves interpreting family histories and educating patients about inheritance, testing options, management, prevention, resources, and research.
Genetic testing is available for many types of diseases, including cancer. Typically, patients may be referred for genetic counseling if they have cancer diagnosed at a young age or if they have multiple family members who have had cancer, especially if the family members were diagnosed before age 50. If you have a strong family history of disease, talk to a doctor about whether a referral to a genetic counselor for you or a loved one 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). Actress Angelina Jolie made headlines in 2013 when she announced that she had a BRCA mutation, prompting her to have a preventive double mastectomy (removal of both breasts) and raising awareness of genetic testing for these genes.
We can also test for many other hereditary cancer syndromes. For example, Lynch syndrome increases a person’s chance to develop several types of cancers, including colon, endometrial (uterine), ovarian, stomach, and pancreatic cancer. It’s estimated that the prevalence of HBOC and the prevalence of Lynch syndrome are equal and affect approximately 1 in 400 people.
If test results show a higher 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 high 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.