Genetic Counseling & Testing

genetics and hereditary risk

Genes are pieces of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) inside our cells that tell the cell how to make the proteins the body needs to function. DNA is the genetic “blueprint” in each cell. Genes affect inherited traits passed on from a parent to a child, such as hair color, eye color, and height. 

An abnormal change in a gene is called a mutation and certain mutations can cause cells to grow out of control, which can lead to cancer. Only about 5% to 10% of all cancers are thought to be strongly related to an inherited gene mutation. 

Most cancers start because of acquired gene mutations that happen during a person’s lifetime. Sometimes these gene changes have an outside cause, such as exposure to sunlight or tobacco. But gene mutations can also be random events that sometimes happen inside a cell, without a clear cause. 

Learn more about the different types of gene mutations.

Genetic information provides a means of identifying people who have an increased risk of cancer. Sources of genetic information include biologic samples of DNA, information derived from a person’s family history of disease, findings from physical examinations, and medical records.     

Who Needs Genetic Testing?

A healthcare provider may recommend counseling for several reasons. 

You may be a candidate for genetic testing if you have:

  • Several first-degree relatives (parents, siblings, or children) who have or have had cancer
  • Multiple relatives with cancer
  • Family members who had cancer at a young age
  • A family member with a rare cancer, such as male breast cancer
  • A physical finding from a different test that could be linked to a hereditary cancer, such as finding many colon polyps during a routine colonoscopy
  • A family member who already underwent genetic testing and found a mutation
  • A birth defect that’s known to be associated with hereditary cancers syndromes, such as certain noncancerous skin growths that are associated with neurofibromatosis
  • Ancestry or ethnicity that’s linked to an increased risk of some inherited cancers, such as Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry (linked to ovarian and breast cancers)

Your provider may also recommend testing if you have already been diagnosed with cancer. This can help them make decisions about your treatment plan.

The 2 Types of Genetic Changes That Can Cause Cancer

Where Does Genetic Testing Fit In?

Getting Your Results

Genetic Counseling and Testing at UI Health

At UI Health, the first step is meeting with a genetic counselor to get a personalized assessment and determine whether or not you need genetic testing.

Learn more about genetic counseling and testing services at UI Health.

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Hereditary Cancer Clinic

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