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(206) 223-6193

Hereditary Cancer Risk Assessment

Up to 10 percent of all cancers are related to inherited factors. The Floyd & Delores Jones Cancer Institute at Virginia Mason in Seattle offers hereditary cancer risk assessment for some types of cancer.

Importance of Heredity to Cancer Risk

All cancers are the result of genetic (DNA) errors. Most of these errors accumulate over time in single cells, eventually resulting in the change of a normal cell to a cancerous state. Some types of DNA errors are inherited, exist in all of the body’s cells, and can lead to an increased risk of developing cancer.

To discuss your hereditary cancer risk, call (206) 223-6193.

Facts and Fallacies about Inherited Cancer Risk

  1. My mother had breast cancer, so I will undoubtedly get it, too. False.
  2. Only my mother’s family history is important in calculating breast or ovarian cancer risk. False.
  3. Prevention measures are available for some cancers. True.
  4. Family history is an important risk factor for some cancers. True.
  5. A positive test for a cancer-related gene mutation guarantees that I will develop cancer. False.
  6. Why would I want to know I have an inherited cancer risk? I couldn’t do anything about it anyway. False.

Who Might Benefit from Hereditary Cancer Risk Consultation?

You may benefit from hereditary cancer risk consultation if you or a close family member:

  • Has developed cancer at an earlier age than is expected for that cancer type (example: breast cancer before menopause);
  • Has been diagnosed with more than one "primary" cancer (example: breast cancer and ovarian cancer or cancer in both breasts);
  • Has been identified to have a cancer-related gene mutation;
  • Has the same or related cancer occurring in close blood relatives;
  • In addition, you may benefit from hereditary cancer risk assessment if your family overall has a greater number of cancers than is expected by chance.

Identifying Inherited Cancer Risk

During a regular health maintenance exam or in the context of cancer diagnosis and care, your provider will ask about your family history. Based this information you may be referred for a more in-depth analysis, a comprehensive Hereditary Cancer Risk Consultation. This process includes:

  • An interview about your personal and family medical history
  • An assessment of cancer risk indicated by the history
  • Information about testing that may be available including risk and benefits
  • Discussion of risk management options including cancer prevention clinical trials
  • Formulation of an individualized plan of action to manage your cancer risk
  • A report to your referring provider

It also may include:

  • A request for you to obtain more information and records
  • Your return for more discussion and planning
  • A referral to other specialists

Off-site Information

The National Cancer Institute has an excellent web site on breast cancer risk titled Genetic Testing for Breast Cancer Risk: It's Your Choice.