Is genetic counseling right for you?
In 2007, Terry Ford had a routine colonoscopy and was given a clean bill of health. Six months later, doctors found three rapidly growing tumors that led to the removal of his colon.
Within a few years, Ford was diagnosed with ureteropelvic transitional cell cancer and had his right kidney removed. In 2012, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
Through all his diagnoses and cancer surgeries, Ford had genetic counseling and genetic testing to find that his health challenges were caused by Lynch syndrome, also known as hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC). This is a type of inherited cancer of the digestive tract, particularly the colon and rectum. Those with Lynch syndrome have a significantly increased risk of developing colorectal cancer, as well as an increased risk of developing other types of cancers, including those of the stomach, breast, ovaries, uterus, pancreas, liver and kidneys.
“It all happened very fast,” Ford says. “When I was diagnosed with Lynch syndrome, I was mostly concerned for my family, since it’s hereditary.”
Ford and his wife, Phyllis, have four children and six grandchildren. Their oldest daughter, Mary, now in her mid-40s, was diagnosed with colon cancer at age 20. Kelly, their youngest daughter, was in the hospital last year when doctors found precancerous polyps and lesions on her uterus.
Given their history of cancer, the Fords turned to genetic counseling to determine each family member’s cancer risk and test for a genetic predisposition to Lynch syndrome. Mary was tested in May 2011 and was diagnosed with the condition. Ford’s sister was found to be syndrome-free.
The Power of Personalized Care
Increasing scientific advances have allowed medical professionals to identify those who may be at an increased risk of developing cancer. Genetic counselors meet with you to review your family’s medical history and talk to you about how your genetics affect your risk of developing certain cancers.
In addition, the counselor performs an assessment of your hereditary cancer risk, including:
- Your chances of having a genetic mutation that pre-disposes you to certain cancers
- Genetic testing recommendations, if appropriate
- An assessment of your personal cancer risk
- Individualized cancer screening and prevention recommendations
According to Melody Perpich, MS, LGC, genetic counselor at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center, not everyone is a candidate for genetic counseling and genetic testing.
“Everyone is worried about their risk for cancer and wants to know all they can to minimize it,” Melody says. “Genetic counseling and risk assessment is appropriate if your family history has you worried about your cancer risk, or if you meet other, very specific, criteria.”
Should you have genetic counseling?
Generally, she says those who may have a predisposition to develop cancer, who should consider receiving genetic counseling, include:
- A history of any cancer diagnosed at age 50 or younger in you or a family member
- A family history of both breast and ovarian cancer, or colon cancer and uterine cancers, at any age
- Two or more family members on the same side of your family who have been diagnosed with any cancer, especially if it was the same type of cancer
- You or a family member who has been diagnosed with two or more new cancers or a rare cancer, such as male breast cancer or adrenal cancer
- A family member has been diagnosed with a hereditary cancer in which a mutation was identified
- An Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry and one of the risk factors above
“Of course, these are broad guidelines,” Melody says. “Your doctor can help you determine if you should receive genetic counseling and, possibly, genetic testing.”
As for Ford, he says he’s happy his family received Melody’s advice on how best to proceed with genetic testing.
“The genetic testing was a very good idea. We need to know what to be prepared for and keep on top of it,” Ford says. “We don’t want our family members to be surprised, like I was. If we know there’s an increased chance for cancer, we can get screened more often to catch it early.
For more information on breast health, visit www.Storiesofthegirls.com.
About the Author
health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.