Understanding your risk for cancer through genetic counseling

Link to Hope: Genetic Counseling helps you know risk factors for cancer
Published: Aug. 26, 2022 at 6:49 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) -When it comes to our health knowing our family history is important.

Understanding our genetic make-up is key in promoting good health and helping to prevent serious disease.

In this month’s Link to Hope how genetic counseling could help you be proactive when it comes to knowing your risk factors for cancer.

When a parent or close family relative is diagnosed with cancer it can often make you think what is in my genetic makeup.

The fear of the unknown can often make us feel like we are standing on the edge, but Elizabeth Hays a genetic counselor with CHI St. Joseph Health says there is a way to better understand the genes inside us.

“So genetic counseling is when a patient comes to talk with one of our counselors about their family history, it might be a personal history of cancer,” said Elizabeth Hays.

The majority of cancers happen by chance, but 5 to 10 percent are hereditary, passed down through the family.

Hays can help people understand the genetic makeup of their family tree and discuss the ways to combat it.

“One subset of patients is those who have already been diagnosed with cancer and the other subset is patients who do not have cancer but have a strong history of cancer,” said Hays.

When appropriate genetic testing can be administered. People who have a personal or family history of certain cancers like pancreatic, male breast cancer or ovarian cancer are automatic referrals Hays says to genetic counseling and testing.

For people diagnosed with cancer it can be a road map to help with treatment, but for others it can serve as a piece of mind.

“We try to take this information and help those individuals who end up with a higher risk to have cancer to take proactive steps to screen early, screen more often and catch things at an earlier stage,” said Hays.

No one knows what our family tree has in store for us, but as a genetic counselor Elizabeth Hays can help be a link to hope in better understanding every limb.

“The ultimate goal is that one day we will totally be on the proactive side and we won’t see nearly as many cancer patients because we will be preventing so many things,” said Hays.

Not all genetic changes are harmful, and no genetic test can say whether you will develop cancer for sure, that is why it is important to talk with a counselor to understand your risks.