Cancer & Genetics: Are Families Always at Risk?

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Is all cancer hereditary?  What increases my risk and the risk of my family?  Dr. Angela Bradbury from Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania shares her perspective related to assessing your risk, who should be screened, and how to reduce your worry.

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Transcript

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you. 

Dr. Bradbury:

There will be some cancer patients who have a sporadic cancer, and there is not an implication for their family. For many, they come, not only with their own diagnosis, but other cancer in the family. There, we certainly are concerned about risks for other relatives. Sometimes, depending on the family history, it may not change anything that we are doing.

So if we have a family who has multiple cases of breast cancer, but they are all later age of onset, then it may be that it doesn’t change what a 40-year-old woman does in that family. But at 40, she needs to make sure that she gets screening, and she is the one that shows up every year. But then in other families, they may have much younger onset of cancer; we might change our screening to a younger age.

So I think it is an important question, and it is good that patients are asking it. This is a newer field where people and many providers are still learning how to assess family history. 

So if you feel like there is something in your family, and no one has been able to address it for you, it is worth a trip to a cancer genetics program or cancer risk assessment program, most cities have one or more, but they may not be at the community practices. They may be in the city as some of the large academic centers. They are very accessible now and just go get an opinion and let someone look at your family history and your personal history.

Really, you have an opportunity to provide a legacy to your family and knowing what screening they should be doing. In that assessment, there is likely, for families that have multiple cases of cancer, or patients who have had two cancer primaries, there may be a role for genetic testing. That is still an area of expertise. We would like to think that all physicians can give advice there, and sometimes we see patients come with not the right advice.

Again, ask the question. Some providers are very skilled and up to date in this area but others are not. If you are not getting the answers you want, take a trip, come to one of the programs, and get an assessment. The worst thing that happens is they say no, they had it all right, and there is nothing to worry about. At best, you will get some advice in thinking about how to protect you and your family. 

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you. 

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Page last updated on March 16, 2017