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Cancer Genetics

Cancer Risk

06/21/2007

Question:

I was wondering if you felt it might be wise for me to see a genetic cancer counselor. My background is as follows: Both of my mom`s two sisters have breast cancer. On my dad`s side there were 8 girls all of which have passed except for 3. Of the three still living one has ovarian cancer and one with breast cancer. The other sisters that have already passed had ovarian, and pancreatic cancer. My grandmother died of pancreatic cancer and so did her mother. The brothers in the same family (there were also 8) also had cancer but I`m not sure exactly which kind and how many. Some died of heart disease. I guess I`m concerned because of the number of cancer realatives but they are not a mother or my own sister. Does the more in a family increase the risk? Thank you.

Answer:

I think it would be very wise for you to see a cancer genetic counselor for evaluation.  The family history that you describe is very concerning for Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Syndrome, which can be inherited from EITHER parent.  Multiple cases of breast and ovarian cancer on the same side of the family are suggestive of this syndrome, especially if the individuals affected with cancer were diagnosed at young ages.  This syndrome is also associated with an increased risk of pancreatic cancer and other cancers, which are also present on this side of the family.  Generally, it is recommended that initial genetic testing in a family be performed on someone who has cancer.  It sounds like you have 2 living paternal aunts with cancer.  The ideal candidate for testing would be the aunt with ovarian cancer, but the aunt with breast cancer could also undergo testing.  Since breast cancer is much more common than ovarian cancer, an individual with breast cancer could not have the same thing that the rest of the family seems to have.  If something is found in someone affected with cancer, unaffected relatives could be tested to determine whether or not they are at increased risk for cancer.  To find a counselor in your area, you can check the attached website.

Related Resources:

Genetic counselors

For more information:

Go to the Cancer Genetics health topic, where you can:

Response by:

Doreen M Agnese, MD Doreen M Agnese, MD
Clinical Associate Professor of Surgery
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University