Cancer & Genetics

It's important to understand the role that genetics plays in our risk level of developing cancer. At St. Luke's, our Cancer Risk Assessment Services are here to guide you through this process and help you learn more about your own health.

Here are some facts to help you understand the relationship between cancer and genetics.

  • All cancer is genetic, in that it is triggered by altered genes. Genes that control the orderly replication of cells become damaged, allowing the cells to reproduce without restraint.
  • Even though all cancer is genetic, just a small portion is inherited.
  • Most cancers come from random mutations that develop in body cells during one's lifetime, either as a mistake when cells are going through cell division or in response to injuries from environmental agents such as radiation or chemicals.
  • Deciding to have genetic testing is difficult, and the decision to undergo testing is a very personal one.
  • Genetic counselors have a vital role to play. These specially trained professionals are skilled at supporting individuals when testing is being considered, when test results are received, and during the weeks and months afterwards.

Frequently Asked Questions About Genetic Testing

Why would I want genetic testing now? I've already had cancer.

Genetic counseling and testing can provide you with information that could help you avoid developing a second primary cancer. This information could also help your family members avoid developing advanced cancer.

Why are you bringing this up now? I was diagnosed years ago.

Genetics is a rapidly evolving specialty, and referral guidelines and options are changing all the time. These options may not have been available when you were diagnosed.

Who is at an increased risk for hereditary cancer?

Any patient with a personal and/or family history that includes any of the following:

  • Early-onset cancer (age <45 years for breast cancer and <50 years for colon or uterine cancer)
  • Multiple family members in the same bloodline with the same type of cancer
  • Related cancers within one bloodline (eg, breast/ovarian/pancreas or colon/uterine/ovarian/sebaceous adenomas or carcinomas or melanoma/pancreas)
  • Jewish ancestry + breast, ovarian, and/or pancreatic cancer
  • Male breast cancer
  • Multiple primary malignancies in one person (eg, breast and ovarian cancer; colon and uterine cancer).

Learn more about how our family history plays a role in our genetic make up.

If you or your family members have any questions, please contact St. Luke's Cancer Risk Assessment counselor at (319) 369-7816.

Source: National Cancer Institute