Genetics and Hereditary Cancers
Genetic counseling at UT Southwestern Medical Center helps patients and families determine if they are at an increased risk of cancer. Our board-certified genetic counselors are trained to identify high-risk families and help them understand their risk of developing cancer as well as their options for prevention, early detection, and treatment.
Genetic counseling is important because, if a patient is found to have an increased risk of cancer, he or she might choose to take certain preventive measures to reduce the risk of actually developing the disease. Also, when patients discover they or their family members do not have an increased risk of cancer, it can relieve anxiety and avoid unnecessarily intensive monitoring strategies.
Cancer Risk Assessment
During genetic counseling, our genetic counselors perform a personalized hereditary cancer evaluation and provide each patient with a risk assessment.
The evaluation takes about 45 minutes and includes:
- A detailed family medical history
- Review of risk factors that includes the inherited nature of cancer, as well as environment, lifestyle, and diet
- Genetic tests, when indicated, and interpretation of the results
- Recommended screenings and medical interventions, if necessary
- Referrals to resources for follow-up care and support
We also use CancerGene Connect, a program developed by former UT Southwestern breast surgical oncologist David Euhus, M.D., to run several different risk assessment models to assess patients’ lifetime risk of certain cancers.
Preparing for Genetic Counseling
Prior to a genetic counseling appointment, it’s important for patients to gather as much information about their own medical history as possible and bring a copy of their medical records to the appointment.
Patients should discuss their family history with their relatives to find out who in the family had cancer, what type of cancer they had, how old they were at diagnosis, and any specific treatments they had.
If other relatives have had genetic testing, it’s useful to have a copy of their results.
Prior to a genetic risk assessment or genetic counseling appointment at UT Southwestern, patients will be asked to fill out our online questionnaire called CancerGene Connect. This questionnaire helps provide our genetic counselors with the maximum information about patients’ personal medical history and any family history of cancer prior to the appointment. It also allows our counselors to spend more time evaluating and discussing a patient’s particular concerns during the appointment.
After the first appointment, we will complete a cancer risk analysis and calculation. If appropriate, we might recommend genetic testing. Our genetic counselors will discuss the advantages and limitations of genetic testing with each patient. All the information found and discussed will be documented in a letter that will be sent to each patient following the visit.
The following videos help explain why it’s important for patients to understand their risk for hereditary cancer.