Family History of Cancer

Last Modified: August 8, 2008

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Question

Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"

I come from a family of five: 3 girls and twin boys. My Mom is currently on Hospice; she started with stomach cancer and [progressed?] to the uterine and spots on the liver. Recently, she had two sisters die in the last 6 months, 15 days apart. One died from breast cancer that spread to her lymph nodes, bone, and brain, and the other from pancreatic cancer. She lost a sister at the age of 57 to colon cancer. The surgeon is telling us to seek testing immediately. Can you give me direction and help please?

Answer

Jill Stopfer, MS, CGC, Certified Genetic Counselor, responds:

I agree that this is a concerning history for some genetic predisposition for cancer, and would strongly recommend that this family seek genetic counseling from a cancer genetics program that has this expertise. Programs can be located throughout the nation using www.nsgc.org (finding a genetic counselor specializing in cancer) or through the NCI directory http://www.cancer.gov/search/geneticsservices/. I would encourage this individual to not delay, since often the key to sorting out why there is an overabundance of cancer in the family requires that an affected person with cancer be tested first. If that person has detectable cancer risk, then everyone else in the family who would like to know his or her status can also be tested. However, it testing the affected person with cancer does not find the source of risk, then medical recommendations for other family members will need to be based on family history alone.