Do you have a family history of cancer?

How you can understand your risk and help your family reduce their risk for future cancer diagnoses

Experiencing a relative go through a cancer diagnosis and treatment can spark wonder – “Will I also get cancer?” “How can I prevent this from happening to me?” “What preventative measures do I need to make my kids aware of?”

There are many pathways you can take to try to prevent cancer. One way is to receive the recommended cancer screenings at the rate your health care team advises. Another effort you can explore is genetic counseling and testing.

Up to 10 percent of all cancer cases are hereditary. Genetic testing allows specialists to identify specific mutations in a patient’s genes that could lead to cancer and is a way for doctors to understand a patient’s risk of developing particular types of cancer due to their genetic makeup. Knowing this empowers patients and their doctors to be proactive about their health and identify options for prevention, early detection and treatment if a diagnosis occurs.

What cancers in my family history should I be concerned about?

Most cancers are believed to have a genetic component, so there is not a specific list that you should use. Cancers that are commonly seen in family histories of patients who have utilized genetic counseling and testing are:

Should I consider genetic counseling and testing?

Knowing who has had cancer in your family and what types of cancers they had is essential when considering genetic counseling and testing. From what you know, do you have:

  • Several relatives with the same or related cancers (i.e., multiple relatives with breast cancer, breast and ovarian, or colon and uterine cancers on the same side of the family)?
  • A personal or family history of a rare or unusual cancer, such as male breast cancer, ovarian cancer or pancreatic cancer?
  • A relative with more than one type of cancer?
  • A personal or family history of cancer under the age of 50?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you should consider genetic counseling and genetic testing.

How does genetic counseling and testing work at Karmanos?

The Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute’s Cancer Genetic Counseling Service is offered at Karmanos Cancer Institute, throughout the Karmanos Cancer Network which is part of McLaren Health Care, and in Ohio at the Karmanos Cancer Institute at The Toledo Clinic Cancer Center. In-person, telephone and virtual appointments are available.

Karmanos tries to make the process as straightforward and efficient as possible. Genetic counseling appointments may last between 30-45 minutes. During the genetic counseling consultation, the genetic counselor reviews the patient’s personal and family history information to determine whether genetic testing is appropriate; provides information about hereditary cancers; and walks patients through the process of genetic testing, insurance coverage, and the implications of testing for the patient and their family.

Patients who meet with our genetic counselors in-person and decide to proceed with testing will have their blood drawn during their visit. 

Patients who meet with our genetic counselors virtually or by phone will be mailed a testing kit. From there, they follow the enclosed instructions and send the saliva testing sample back to the lab with the provided label.

Once the order for testing is placed, the lab will verify insurance, determine the out-of-pocket cost for testing, and notify the patient before performing the test. Test results take approximately two to three weeks to complete. When finished, the patient’s genetic counselor will contact them over the phone to review and discuss the implications of the results.

Depending on the patient’s results, the genetic counselor will give recommendations to help reduce risk of developing cancer and help detect cancer at its earliest, most treatable stage. The patient’s primary health care provider will also receive these recommendations. Some suggestions may include certain types of cancer screening, a possible change in the rate or age at which the patient should receive certain cancer screenings, risk-reducing surgeries, certain medications, suggested eating habits and exercise.

Think of genetic testing as not just a way to inform yourself of your risks but also a way to provide information to your family members, who also may be at an increased risk and could benefit from changes in their cancer screening routine.

Though genetic counseling does not require a physician referral, some insurance companies may require that patients are referred. Our genetic counseling services are often covered like any other specialty.  Most insurance companies cover part, if not all, of genetic testing.

For more information on the Cancer Genetic Counseling Service at Karmanos, visit or contact the Karmanos cancer center near you.

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 is a federal law that protects people from discrimination based on genetic information when it comes to health insurance and employment. There are also state laws that do the same. A genetic counselor can address any concerns regarding genetic discrimination during a genetic counseling appointment.