Genetic Counseling & Testing

What is inherited cancer?

Approximately 5-10% of all caners are “inherited” or “hereditary” which means they are caused by a change (mutation) in certain genes. These gene changes may:

  • be passed down from a mother or father to their son or daughter
  • raise a person’s risk for developing one or more types of cancer; however, not everyone who inherits the gene change will develop cancer

How do genes play a role in inherited breast cancer?

7-10% of all breast and ovarian cancers are due to changes in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 (BRCA) genes. A BRCA gene change can lead to:

  • Breast cancer at a younger age
  • Breast cancer in both breasts
  • Many family members with breast and/or ovarian cancer
  • Aggressive breast cancers, such as triple-negative breast cancer or basal-like breast cancer

What makes inherited cancer more likely to run in a family?

One or more of the following features may be present in a family:

  • Two or more family members on the same side of the family (i.e., the mother’s or father’s side of the family) have the same type of cancer
  • Cancer diagnosed at or before age 50
  • Cancer in paired organs, such as both breasts
  • The presence of a very rare cancer, such as male breast cancer
  • A family member has more than one type of cancer, such as both breast and ovarian cancer
  • Cancer in two or more generations of a family

What to expect when seeing a genetics professional:

This visit may be referred to as a “genetic counseling” session. Important parts of the genetic counseling process include:

  • Collecting your personal and family history information, which can be used to figure out the chance of inherited cancer in your family
  • Providing education about inherited cancers and how genetic testing may help you and your family make healthcare decisions
  • Discussing the emotional impact of genetic testing on you and your family
  • Helping you make a decision about whether genetic testing is right for you

What is involved with genetic testing?

  • There may be forms for you to review and sign
  • Your blood or saliva will be collected and sent to the lab for testing
  • Test results are usually back within a few weeks
  • The price for genetic testing varies and may or may not be covered by your insurance company
  • You should speak with a genetic counselor or other healthcare provider if you have questions

How could genetic testing help me or my family?

Genetic test results, along with your person and family history, may:

  • Help to understand the chances that you or your family members might develop breast and/or ovarian cancer
  • Provide information to select medical options to address your risks

How to find a genetics professional near you:

To locate a genetics professional close to you, please visit the National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC) website: