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Cancer Risk Assessment and Education

At the Siteman Cancer Center, genetics evaluation begins with risk assessment and education. A genetics physician and genetic counselors work with individuals to determine whether the cancers in their family truly suggest a hereditary tendency. The first step involves taking a detailed family history to determine which family members had cancer along with their age at onset and whether they developed other cancers as well.

This information is important because hereditary cancers tend to occur at an earlier age, and people with an altered cancer gene have a greater risk of developing more than one cancer. With a complete family history and personal medical history, patients can be given a rough estimate of their lifetime risk of developing the disease. They then can consider screening and risk-reducing options based on the level of their risk.

Various considerations help in making this assessment. The risk increases, for example, when many family members or multiple generations are affected or when family members have developed cancer at an unusually early age or in both sides of an organ, such as both breasts.

Typically, a genetic counselor helps patients document their family history and collect available medical records of family members with cancer.

The next step is for patients to meet with a genetics physician and genetics counselor to assess their family-based cancer risk and discuss appropriate surveillance procedures. If a cancer risk appears to be hereditary, genetic testing may be useful in identifying the most appropriate medical care.