Division of Hematology/Oncology

Cancer Genetics & Risk Assessment Program

Mariann and Robert MacDonald Women's Cancer Risk Evaluation Center

The staff of the Mariann and Robert MacDonald Women's Cancer Risk Evaluation Center helps people identify their inherited risk for breast, ovarian and other cancers.

The center's programs are designed to:

  • Help people understand risk factors for breast, ovarian and other cancers.
  • Review and assess detailed family history information for possible inherited cancer conditions.
  • Provide expert genetic counseling and the option of genetic testing.
  • Arrange genetic testing and provide consultation regarding results.
  • Provide clinical breast examinations.
  • Provide tailored medical recommendations.
  • Review outside genetic testing results and make recommendations for follow-up.
  • Coordinate screening and long term follow-up for those with known inherited genetic risk.
  • Review medical history and lifestyle risk factors.
  • Provide written summaries of consultations.
  • Evaluate eligibility for participation in research studies.

The center also provides information for individuals who have been diagnosed with cancer and are interested in learning about the role of genetics in their disease. Some individuals are interested in obtaining this information for the benefit of their siblings, children and grandchildren. The center also holds education and support programs periodically throughout the year for individuals at high risk for cancer.

Frequently Asked Questions About Genetic Testing

What features suggest the possibility of inherited genetic risk?

There are a number of factors that point to the possibility of inherited genetic risk for cancer. These include:

  • Multiple closely related family members with the same form of cancer.
  • Cancers being diagnosed at earlier than typical ages.
  • Having more than one form of cancer.
  • Certain ancestry can increase the chances of having a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, even though the genes are found in people of every ethnic background.
What is genetic testing for inherited cancer risk?

Testing is usually done by obtaining a small blood sample. Genetic testing looks for errors in the genetic code, called mutations. Inherited mutations can sometimes significantly raise the chances for a person to develop a cancer.

Why would people want to know they have an inherited genetic risk for cancer?

People who learn about their inherited risk for cancer can take steps to substantially increase the odds of good health. These include:

  • Specialized screening: People with inherited risk often start special screening at earlier ages than those in the general population. Individuals can also benefit from specialized surveillance options typically not offered to those at average risk.
  • Risk reduction strategies: There are multiple ways to dramatically lower cancer risk. These options are discussed on an individual basis depending on the level of risk, and taking personal preferences into account.
  • Risk avoidance: Detailed counseling is provided about risk factors for breast, ovarian and other cancers, and how certain lifestyle modifications may lower risk.
  • Making more informed treatment choices: Sometimes surgical decisions and other treatment choices are influenced by knowledge about inherited genetic risk.
Are people with inherited genetic risk at risk for discrimination?

The Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act (GINA) was signed into law in 2008. This federal law makes it illegal to raise a person's insurance rates, drop coverage, or deny access to health insurance based on genetic information.

Is genetic testing expensive? Will my insurance cover it?

As part of a risk assessment, it is determined how likely it is that genetic testing will be able to identify the source of cancer risk in someone's family. Most insurance companies cover this cost for those who have a significant chance. Medicare covers the cost of genetic testing for those who meet certain criteria.

Where can I find more information?

The National Cancer Institute has a comprehensive peer-reviewed website.