Understanding Genetics and Your Cancer Risk

Catholic Health genetic counselors examine the relationship between cancer and genetics. They look at your personal and family health history to help identify your likelihood of developing cancer based on your genetic makeup. They also offer guidance and education that enables you to use that information to develop an action plan that may reduce your cancer risk.

Genetic abnormalities play a significant role in cancer diagnoses. Your genes control how your cells develop, grow and multiply. Some genetic abnormalities disrupt that process by causing the uncontrolled growth of cancer cells. Others result in misshapen or damaged cells that become cancerous.

Genetic changes that increase your chance of developing cancer can be inherited from your parents. They can also be the result of exposure to cancer-causing substances such as asbestos or tobacco smoke. Our genetic counselors will discuss all potential risk factors at your appointment.

Frequently Asked Questions

Talk to your physician about whether genetic counseling to help assess your cancer risk is appropriate for you if you or a blood relative have:

  • A known mutation in a cancer predisposition gene such as BRCA1 or BRCA2
  • A personal or family history of cancer that occurred at a younger age than usual, such as breast or colon cancer that was diagnosed before age 50
  • A personal or family history of rare cancer such as male breast cancer
  • Cancer in a set of paired organs such as your lungs or kidneys
  • Multiple family members who have been diagnosed with the same or related cancers
  • Multiple new cancers at once
  • Past history of colon cancer or multiple colon polyps
  • Past history of ovarian cancer
  • Several noncancerous tumors or polyps

Catholic Health genetic counselors cover a wide range of topics based on your interest, goals and health history.

Topics include:

  • Cancer screening and testing options
  • Insurance coverage
  • Laws against genetic discrimination
  • Pros and cons of genetic testing for your family
  • Research in cancer genetics and clinical protocols
  • Strategies to reduce your cancer risk
  • The emotional issues that coincide with genetic testing
  • The role of genetics in cancer
  • The chance that hereditary cancer will affect your family

Determining your genetic risk of developing cancer has many benefits, including:

  • Highlighting the need to increase your prevention efforts with strategies like additional or earlier screenings and lifestyle changes.
  • Helps detect cancer in its early stages when it is most treatable.
  • Increased understanding of your body’s genetic makeup has the potential to reduce your uncertainty, ease your mind and relieve the anxiety that surrounds a cancer diagnosis.
  • Screening results may indicate the need for medication to prevent or slow the growth of cancer cells.
  • Test results provide vital information for your care team as they develop your cancer treatment plan.

Genetic counseling at Catholic Health begins with a consultation that lasts up to two hours. Your genetic counselor tailors the consultation to your individual concerns and answers all your questions about hereditary cancer risk and testing. If you choose to have genetic testing, you will also have a shorter follow-up appointment to discuss your results with your genetic counselor.

Your genetic counselor will:

  • Arrange genetic testing and interpret the results if you choose that option
  • Assess and explain the likelihood that cancer in your family is hereditary
  • Collect and analyze your family history
  • Discuss options or cancer screening and risk reduction
  • Identify other resources such as support groups or other health care professionals that could be helpful to you
  • Outline the pros and cons of genetic testing, if applicable
  • Review and explain information about the genetics of cancer and advances in testing
  • Review your medical history

No. You can learn valuable information about managing your cancer from genetic counseling without being tested. Your genetic counselor will help you decide if genetic testing is right for you.

Genetic counseling can provide valuable information even if you’ve already been tested. The consultation ensures that you’ve received a comprehensive cancer risk assessment with the correct genetic tests. Many of our patients find genetic counseling after testing an effective way to address or re-address any question or concerns about the medical, emotional and family issues that accompany genetic testing.

You should contact your genetic counselor every two to three years to update your medical and family history and review any advances in genetics that could affect your care. You should contact your genetic counselor sooner if you have major changes to your medical or family history.

Clinical Excellence. Compassionate Care.

Cancer Services

Diagnosis and treatment for all types and stages of cancer.

Cancer Care Team

Board-certified oncologists and a supporting team of cancer specialists.

Catholic Health Cancer Institutes

Comprehensive cancer services at locations across Long Island.