About 10% of all cancers are caused by gene mutations that are passed down through the family. These cancers are commonly called Hereditary Cancer. These cancers include Breast, Ovarian, Colorectal (colon), Endometrial (cancer of the uterus), Melanoma, Pancreatic, Prostate as well as others. Having a inherited genetic mutation does not mean that you will develop cancer, but it does mean that you are at a higher risk for developing that specific cancer.
If you have a family history of cancer, hereditary cancer testing is the way you determine if you carry a gene that increases your risk. This test is done by either collecting a sample of saliva or blood. Test results are available in about 2 weeks.
You should consider testing if you have several first degree relatives with cancer, or if many relatives on one side of the family have had the same type of cancer. Testing is also indicated if you have family members who have had cancer at a younger age than normal for that type of cancer or if you have a family member that has a rare cancer, such as breast cancer in a man or retinoblastoma ( a type of eye cancer). Ethnicity also plays an important role, such as Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry which is linked to both breast and ovarian cancers.
A genetic counselor or your health care provider can help determine whether testing is appropriate for you or your family. Multiple issues should be discussed prior to being tested such as which tests should be drawn, what the results will tell you about your risk, what can be done should you test positive, implications to your family, costs and privacy concerns.
The Genetics Informational Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 is a federal law that bars health insurers from making coverage decisions based on these results. The law however does not restrict using this genetic information for life insurance, disability insurance or long term health insurance.
One last caveat: Be careful when buying on online service that tests your DNA. These direct to consumer companies often times may give incorrect or misleading information.
Here are some useful resources for those who would like further information:
Below are links to local Genetic counseling services: