News from Illinois CancerCare

How Genetic Testing Can Protect Your Family

Although many people think that Illinois CancerCare is the place you go for top-notch treatment – which is true – we’re also dedicated to helping individuals learn about their potential risk of inherited cancer.

The Illinois CancerCare Genetics Clinic provides comprehensive counseling and testing for a wide range of cancer types that can be inherited. Some patients come to us directly because they have questions about their own cancer or a pattern of cancer in their family, while others are referred to us by their primary care provider (PCP).

Either way, the process begins with an appointment where we’ll discuss your medical history and family medical history with a focus on cancer. We like to discuss a minimum of three degrees of blood relatives.

What does that mean?

Your parents, children or siblings are first-degree relatives. Grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nephews and nieces are second-degree. Your third-degree relatives have two family members between you and them, such as great-grandparents, great-grandchildren or first cousins.

In addition to your family background, we’ll ask questions about various lifestyle factors and environmental issues that could impact your risk of getting certain cancers. Depending on your answers to these in-depth questions, we may decide that you’re an appropriate candidate for genetic testing.

Most often this is done with a blood or saliva test, which can reveal if you have any inherited gene mutations that might put you at higher risk of getting certain kinds of cancer. (A mutation is a permanent alteration in the DNA sequence of a particular gene when compared to a normal gene.) If those gene mutations are detected, we’ll create a plan to decide what steps you may want to take. This could include risk reduction strategies, screening schedules, consultation with specialists and follow-up care.

Although sequencing (testing) continues to evolve to include  an ever-growing number of genetic mutations biomarkers (also called a tumor marker), the most common ones include breast, ovarian, and colorectal  cancers, in addition to melanoma, renal, pancreatic and prostate cancers . However, as more research is done, other cancers continue to be included as well. We’re also looking more deeply at prostate, renal (kidney) and pancreatic cancers.

We also want patients to know that we’re here to help them work through the emotional aspect of genetic testing. Some people feel relieved to know what type of cancer they may be at increased risk for due to the genetic mutation in their family. They may take action to reduce the likelihood of getting that cancer. For example, if the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene is found, a woman may choose to do a risk-reducing double mastectomy. Some women also choose to have their ovaries surgically removed to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer.

Even if you don’t pursue genetic testing at this time, our ongoing research and commitment to genetic counseling give you the opportunity to consider the options of learning more about your risk for potentially-inherited cancer in the future.

Gaining insights into your medical history might be the best thing you can do for your family. Not only will this help protect your health today … it can help protect your family’s health tomorrow.

Here’s how you can learn more:

  • Ask your primary care provider (PCP) if he or she would recommend genetic testing based on your medical history.
  • Refer yourself to our genetics clinic by calling (309) 243-3549 or filling out an online appointment request.
  • Visiting our website, where you’ll find answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).