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Cancer and Genetics Program


The Cancer Genetics and Prevention Program serves those at increased risk of hereditary cancer. We discuss" individuals' risks of cancer, appropriate management of that risk, and offer genetic counseling services.

About 1 in 3 Americans will develop some type of cancer during their lifetime. A woman's lifetime risk of breast cancer is about 1 in 8 (or 11%) and ovarian cancer is about 1 in 50 (or 2%). The risk of developing colon cancer before age 70 for men and women is about 1 in 17 (or 6%). When cancer is inherited, these risks may be much higher.

In some families, there is an inherited risk of developing certain types of cancer. However, only 5-10% of breast and colon cancer cases are associated with an inherited risk that is passed on by genes from parents to their children. Thus, most cancer cases are not hereditary.

Some of the features seen in families who have inherited cancers include:

  • Early onset (age<50)
  • Present in multiple generations
  • Rare cancers
  • Bilateral or multiple primary cancers in one person
  • Certain ethnicities (such as the Ashkenazi Jewish population)

At your first appointment in the Cancer Genetics and Prevention Program, you will meet with a genetic counselor. During this appointment, we will review your family's medical history. You will want to learn as much as you can about your family history ahead of time. We will send you a form to help you collect this information.

We will tell you how great a chance there is that the cancer in your family is hereditary. We may offer genetic testing for hereditary cancer genes. We will discuss the risks, benefits and limitations of the testing. We also discuss what recommendations might be made if the genetic test comes back positive, the emotional impact that might occur, and the implications for other family members.

Finding a non-working gene can help us know your chance of getting cancer in the future. We use this information to recommend ways to prevent or detect cancer at an early stage. If you already have cancer, it may affect your treatment choices. The information is also important for your relatives.

When genetic tests were first developed, some people were concerned about possible genetic discrimination. However, Massachusetts has laws in place to protect against health care discrimination. We can also discuss life and disability insurance concerns.

Your first appointment is an informational session. After speaking with the genetic counselor, you can decide if you want genetic testing. You can have testing immediately after the session or at any later time. Genetic testing is a blood test. Most health insurance plans cover genetic testing. Before doing the test, the lab will verify your insurance benefits. Results usually take 3-4 weeks.

The Cancer Genetics and Prevention Program focuses on hereditary breast and ovarian cancers as well as hereditary colorectal and GI cancer syndromes.

If you are interested in scheduling an appointment, please call the Cancer Genetics and Prevention Program at 617-667-1905.