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Cancer Genetics

Genetic Testing



Nine members of my father`s family i.e. himself, brothers and sisters have died of cancers all before reaching sixty. These have included mouth, spine, hodgkinsons. My sister died aged 59 of a brain tumor 6 weeks after being diagnosed with cancer all over. Would it be a good idea for me to be tested? Thanks.


Considering the number of cancers in your family, I think a genetics evaluation would be a good idea. At this appointment you will meet with a genetic counselor who will want to get more information about your family including the ages of all your relatives (parents, aunts and uncles, cousins, grandparents and maybe other relatives who have had cancer). You will want to get information on relatives with and without cancer, the ages at which people were diagnosed with cancer and the locations of their cancers, and other information about possible other environmental factors that might increase cancer risk.

The genetic counselor will then discuss whether the pattern of cancers in the family matches any of the known cancer syndromes, and who in the family might be the best person with whom to start testing. This may be another member of your family who has already had cancer. Sometimes there is no genetic testing available, but the genetic counselor will discuss what kind of screening is recommended based on the cancers in the family, or there may be a research study that you can join. While this may not tell you exactly what is causing the cancers in the family, it may improve your chances for early detection.

To locate a genetic counselor in your area you can contact your primary care physician or you can go to the website for the National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC.org) and follow the instructions under "Locate a Genetic Counselor."

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Response by:

Duane D Culler, PhD, MS Duane D Culler, PhD, MS
Clinical Instructor of Genetics
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University