Individuals with a family history of cancer now have a place to turn for accurate information about their own risk of developing the disease. The Valley Hospital Cancer Genetics Program provides individualized family history analysis, risk evaluation and counseling. A team of professionals, including a medical geneticist, a genetic counselor, a social worker and physicians from various specialties, work together to provide these services.
About the Program
Genetic Counselors Rachel Sugalski and Zipora Eckstein, and Clinical Geneticist Nelly Oundjian, M.D.
The Valley Hospital Cancer Genetics Program, which is affiliated with the Strang Cancer Prevention Center and Cornell Medical Center, was one of the first hospital-based cancer genetics programs in New Jersey. Although anyone concerned about the risk of developing cancer can benefit from and take advantage of the Cancer Genetics Program, we especially encourage individuals who
have several relatives with cancer
a close relative who developed cancer at an early age
a relative who has had more than one cancer
a relative who has had a rare or unusual cancer
The Evaluation Process
The evaluation process begins with a Family History Questionnaire, which the Cancer Genetics Team analyzes to determine the risk for developing specific types of cancer. If necessary, the respondent is assisted in obtaining medical records so the information provided is as precise and complete as possible.
Next, the genetic counselor discusses risks, if any, and addresses questions or concerns.
The Relationship Between Cancer and Genetics
Often, individuals want to find out whether or not they carry a predisposition that would put them at increased risk for developing cancer. It's important to note that, while all cancers are due to changes in genetic material at the cellular level, most cancers are not inherited. In fact, only 5 to 10 percent of cancers are hereditary. Many people who believe they are at high risk for developing cancer are reassured when they discover that their chances are actually slim.
However, some cancers, such as breast, ovarian and colon cancer, however, are more likely to be inherited. The cause is often a gene mutation that can be passed from mothers or fathers to their children. If a woman inherits a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, for example, she will be more susceptible to developing cancer of the breast and ovaries. Mutations in these two genes are believed to cause most cases of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.
Counseling, Screening, and Testing
If an individual's family history indicates a cancer risk greater than that of the general population, the genetic counselor will provide counseling. All counseling is conducted in a nondirective way. Rather than dictating a course of action, the genetic counselor educates people so they can make decisions for themselves and their families. The counselor then supports whatever decisions they make.
The genetic counselor may offer guidelines for a personalized screening program aimed at early detection. (For individuals who have no increased risk for cancer, the counselor will recommend a general population screening process.)
Should one's family history indicate a predisposing gene mutation, the genetic counselor may also discuss genetic testing. This involves drawing a small blood sample in order to test the DNA for mutations in the genes that can lead to cancer.
When people predisposed to cancer are armed with information, they can take steps to reduce their risk of cancer or to detect it at an early stage, when treatment is most successful. For those whose risk is no higher than average, counseling can ease concerns.
The Valley Hospital Cancer Genetics Program is located at the Blumenthal Cancer Center at the Luckow Pavilion. To learn more, please call 201-634-5339.