FAQ: Genetic Testing for Hereditary Cancer
- Am I required to have genetic testing if I see a genetic counselor?
- Why is genetic counseling an important part of genetic testing?
- What can I do if I learn I have an increased chance of getting cancer?
- I've already had cancer. What can I learn from genetic counseling?
- What about insurance discrimination and confidentiality?
No. Genetic counseling involves a detailed evaluation of your family history and family medical records as well as education about hereditary cancer.
Following the initial consultation, some people decide to pursue genetic testing to learn more about the level of cancer risk in their family. Others learn that their family history is not suggestive of an inherited predisposition, or they choose to not pursue genetic testing at this time. These families can still benefit from receiving education about cancer risk, as well as personalized cancer screening and prevention guidelines.
The genetic tests that are currently available cannot explain the strong history of cancer in many families. It is important to document the family history in detail so we can provide recommendations for early detection or prevention of cancer, even when genetic testing is not informative. Genetic counseling also addresses important aspects of testing, such as the implications and options for the patient and the impact on family members.
There are a variety of options available to people who have an increased chance of cancer based on their family history or genetic testing results. These include increased surveillance or monitoring, chemoprevention – including medications that reduce the chance of cancer – and risk-reducing surgery.
There are also new methods of cancer detection and prevention that are being developed, some of which are available through the UCSF Cancer Genetics and Prevention Program as clinical trials. All of these options can be discussed in detail at your visit.
People who have already had cancer may learn about steps they can take to detect or reduce the chance of other cancers. For example, a hereditary predisposition to breast cancer can be associated with an increased chance of ovarian cancer.
Genetic counseling will also provide information about whether other family members have an increased chance of developing cancer. There are steps they can take to detect cancer early or prevent it from occurring.
There are laws in California and most other states preventing health insurers from using genetic testing results to discriminate against individuals. This means that a health insurer cannot raise your rates, drop your coverage or deny you coverage based on the results of genetic testing.
In addition to the existing legal protection, the Cancer Genetics and Prevention Program has multiple procedures in place to protect the confidentiality of your genetic counseling and genetic testing information. All of our records, including genetic test results, are kept separate from your UCSF medical chart. None of this information will be released without your written consent.
UCSF Health medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your provider.
Cancer Genetics and Prevention Program
See all four of our Bay Area locations and learn about the program.
Breast Cancer Risk Factors
Click now to find a summary of the factors that increase risk for developing breast cancer, including both factors that we cannot change and those we can.
Colorectal Cancer Prevention and Screening
Colorectal cancer, which affects men and women at equally frequent rates, develops from precancerous growths called polyps. Learn more and schedule a screening.
Skin Cancer Prevention
Skin cancer is largely preventable, and if caught early, it's usually curable. It's important to take precautions when spending time outdoors. Learn more.
Taking Charge: If You Are at High Risk for Breast Cancer
Preventive treatment options for women at a high risk of breast cancer including, Tamoxifen, an anti-estrogen drug, and Prophylactic (Preventive) Mastectomy.
Taking Charge: If You Are at High Risk for Ovarian Cancer
If you have an increased risk of ovarian cancer, your doctor may periodically order a blood test that has shown usefulness in finding epithelial ovarian cancer.
Women's Health Checklist: Questions to Ask Your Provider
Use this Women's Health Checklist to determine which questions you should ask your doctor including: General Health and Wellness, Medical Test, and more.