“Five to 10 percent of all cancer is hereditary” – Adelsperger
Genetic counselors can help you understand not only your own risk for developing cancer but the risk of your loved ones as well.
While it is a decision that should not be taken lightly, genetic counseling has some important advantages that should be considered.
Diane Blue’s story is a testament to some of the advantages of genetic counseling. Diane was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002. This year, 16 years after her first diagnosis, she was diagnosed again, this time with ovarian cancer.
Diane’s family was extremely supportive through her fight but Diane herself was more worried about them. She was concerned they may have hereditary risk for developing cancer. For ovarian cancer specifically, 24% of cases are hereditary.
“My biggest concern was my two daughters, two granddaughters and two great-granddaughters”
Diane needed to find out if her family was at risk.
But how would genetic counseling actually help?
While its impossible to completely eliminate all chance of a cancer diagnosis, there are preventive measures you can take to reduce your risk. People are much more likely to take those measures if they understand they are at a higher risk for developing the illness.
Most people who see a genetic counselor are referred to one by their physician however you can also take the initiative to set up an appointment on your own.
For breast cancer specifically, both men and women can carry the genes. However, its not really about the genes at all but whether or not the genes are working correctly or have undergone a mutation.
Since every family tree is so complex, there is never going to be a universal answer concerning risk. This is why genetic counseling is so important on an individual basis.
Some people who are told they are at a higher risk will never actually be diagnosed with cancer, just like some people who are told they are at a low risk will still face the battle. However, talking to a genetic counselor can give you a good idea about the possibilities, and most importantly, can help encourage preemptive behavior.
Thankfully, Diane’s genetic tests came back negative. She does not carry the gene mutation. If she had, that would have given her female relatives a 50% chance of developing cancer themselves.
If the tests had shown a mutation and therefore a perceived risk, Diane’s relatives would have started being monitored at a much younger age. For instance, for those who are determined high risk, breast cancer management begins at age 25 instead of the normal age 40. They will undergo regular breast surveillance and some women will choose to have their breasts removed preventively.
For Diane, she truly feels genetic testing was the right choice for her and her family and she now has a much greater peace of mind. You can read more of Diane’s story and the advantages of genetic counseling here.