Cancer Conversations: When cancer runs in your family

Cancer Conversations: When cancer runs in your family

by Meagan Evans, MSW, LCSWA, OPN-CG

Have you ever wondered if cancer runs in your family? If you have a family member or relative who has been diagnosed with cancer, you may be wondering if you are at risk of getting cancer. If you have children, you may wonder if they are at risk. These are normal concerns as it may seem that cancer is more common in one family than another. In order to understand this, we need to review how traits are passed through the genes of parents to their children.

Genes are the building blocks of our bodies. Genes are pieces of DNA that tell our cells what to do and how to grow. Some genes help control how our cells grow and divide. Genes determine traits that are passed from a parent to a child. This might include the color of your hair and eyes or how tall you are. Cancer is not usually passed down from one person to another. However, certain genes can determine your risk for getting cancer.

When a gene changes, it is called a mutation. Some mutations may cause cells to grow out of control. Sun exposure or smoking may cause some genes to change. And sometimes, changes can occur and we do not understand why. These mutations may put a person at a higher risk for getting a certain cancer.  Genetic testing can tell if you have a risk of getting cancer.

A genetic counselor can help you understand if you or your family may be at risk for getting cancer. They will review medical information about you and your family members.This is called a family health history. Genetic testing may be recommended if it is felt you might be at risk for developing cancer. Genetic testing looks at samples of blood or saliva for differences in certain genes.  

We know that testing is not perfect. However, the genetic counselor will review how the results may be able to help you. They will also help you figure out if your insurance company will cover the cost of the testing.

People who have a genetic risk are at an increased risk to develop certain cancers. These may include breast, ovarian, colorectal and/or prostate cancer.  Having the gene does not mean you will get cancer. Learning if you are at risk will allow you to make the best health care decision.

Below are just a few reasons for you to consider if you would like to talk to your doctor about genetic counseling:

  • If you were under the age of 50 when you learned you had cancer

  • If there are two or more close relatives on the same side of your family with cancer

  • If you have more than one new cancer

  • If you have a very rare cancer

To find out more information about cancer and genes visit: www.tinyurl.com/unc-cancer, Cancer.Net, and MedlinePlus.Gov.  

Interested in learning more about genetic testing? Check with your local healthcare provider.  You may also attend “Cancer Conversations,” a monthly educational webinar series that UNC Lenoir Health Care hosts in partnership with UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. The topic for January is, “When Cancer Runs in Your Family,” presented by Julianne O’Daniel, MS, CGC, an assistant professor at UNC and experienced genetic counselor.  

The program is free and open to the general public. This is just another way that UNC Lenoir Health Care and UNC Lineberger are working together to ensure you have quality cancer care delivered in your own community.

Topic: “When Cancer Runs in Your Family”

Date: Friday, January 25, 2019

Time: 12-1PM

Location: Oxford Room at UNC Lenoir Health Care

100 Airport Rd Kinston, NC 28501

Register: To RSVP, contact Staff Development at (252) 522-7051

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Meagan Evans, MSW, LCSWA, OPN-CG | Certified Oncology Patient Navigator and Social Worker

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