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MD Anderson Genetic Testing
Between 5% and 10% of all cancers are hereditary, which means that changes (or mutations) in specific genes are passed from one blood relative to another. People who inherit one of these gene changes will have a higher risk of developing cancer at some point in their life. Genetic counseling can help people understand this risk.
Genetic counseling is not for everyone. In most cases, people who need genetic counseling fit into one of two groups.
Group one includes people who are cancer-free but, due to other medical conditions or family history, may have an increased risk for developing the disease. This includes people with:
two or more close family members with the same type of cancer. For example, a mother and sister with breast cancer or a father and daughter with colorectal cancer.
the same type of cancer in several generations of a family.
ancestry and family history of breast or ovarian cancer.
polyposis, or multiple polyps in the stomach or intestines.
Group two includes people who have a cancer diagnosis and want to learn if it is genetic. Not everyone with cancer needs genetic counseling, though. Instead, it is usually recommended for patients who have:
developed cancer at an earlier age than usual for their disease
been diagnosed with two or more separate cancers
developed a rare type of cancer, such as male breast cancer or medullary thyroid cancer
family history of the same or related type of cancer
If you fit into one of these categories, it's a good idea to meet with a genetic counselor.
About genetic counseling
The first step to understanding your genetic cancer risk is a genetic counseling session. There are several steps to these sessions.
Medical and family history review
The genetic counselor will take your medical history, as well as a cancer-focused family tree going back generations. Based on this information, the counselor will discuss how your family’s cancer history may be hereditary and what that means for you.