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Cancer Genetics

Genetics play a role in some types of breast, ovarian, adrenal, thyroid, colon, melanoma, pancreas and thyroid cancers

Cancer genetics is something we hear a lot about as celebrities such as Angelina Jolie have made medical decisions due to genetic predisposition for cancer. But how do you know if you might have a cancer causing gene? Oncologist and Director of the University of Michigan Cancer Genetics Clinic, Elena Stoffel, M.D., shares the ins and outs of when, who and if you should have genetic testing.

Cancer is a common disease, and in most cases it occurs sporadically, or by chance. But about 5% to 10% of cancers develop because the person has inherited a change in a gene (also called a mutation) that puts him or her at higher risk to develop a cancer. Knowing if you or your family members are at risk for hereditary cancers can allow you to plan strategies to prevent cancer, catch it earlier or treat it more aggressively.

How do you know if hereditary cancer is lurking in your family's genes? Some red flags include:

  • Having more than one relative with the same cancer or related cancers
  • Being diagnosed with cancer at an early age (typically under age 50)
  • Having a rare or unusual type of cancer
  • Developing more than one primary cancer

The University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center's Cancer Genetics Program can work with you to determine if your family is at higher risk to develop cancer. And if you are, our specialized physicians and genetic counselors will develop a plan for additional screening or lifestyle changes to help reduce your cancer risk.

A variety of cancers can have a genetic component. We'll look at the full spectrum of your family and personal medical history and will follow you and your family over time, in coordination with your oncologists and primary care doctor.

The U-M Rogel Cancer Center provides screening and counseling services in the following two clinics:

Still have questions about cancer genetics screening?

The nurses at Cancer AnswerLine have answers. Call 1-800-865-1125 and you'll get a personal response from one of our registered nurses, who have years of experience in caring for people with cancer.

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