Discussing Hereditary Cancer with Family this Holiday Season

Thanksgiving brings the beginning of the winter holiday season – a time for connection and celebration. As family gathers around the table to give thanks, a toast to health is often in order. This year, take the opportunity to touch base with your loved ones about important familial health matters like cancer screening for hereditary syndromes.

Discussing Hereditary Cancer with Family this Holiday Season

According to the American Cancer Society, about 5-10% of all cancers are caused by an abnormal gene (mutation) that is inherited from the parent and can be passed along from generation to generation.1 In this blog, we offer possible types of hereditary cancer, counseling resources, and genetic testing options to help kick-start crucial conversations.

Types of Hereditary Cancer Syndromes

There are many kinds of hereditary cancer syndromes including:

  • Breast cancer: Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer to affect women, with about 12% receiving this diagnosis in their lifetime.2 While the majority of breast cancer is sporadic, about 5-10% of breast cancer is hereditary3, meaning it is caused by an inherited mutation (change) in one of several genes.
  • Hereditary GYN cancers: Ovarian and endometrial (uterine) cancers are among the most common cancer types affecting women. Approximately 1.3% of women in the US will develop ovarian cancer4. Depending on the specific type of ovarian cancer a woman has, anywhere from 13-25% can be hereditary. Endometrial cancer is more common but less likely to be hereditary, with only 2-3% felt to be explained by an inherited mutation.
  • Hereditary prostate cancer: Men who have a father or a brother who has had prostate cancer have twice the risk of developing prostate cancer than men without a family history of the disease. Inherited mutations, or changes of a gene, cause about 5% to 10% of prostate cancers.5
  • Hereditary renal cancer: Renal (kidney) cancer is among the top 10 most prevalent cancers in both men and women. Statistics show that men are twice as likely to develop kidney cancer versus women.6 Approximately 3-5% of renal cancer cases are hereditary.7
  • Hereditary colon cancer: Up to 5% of colon cancer is hereditary, meaning it is caused by an inherited mutation (change) in one of several genes.8

When to Consider Genetic Testing

If hereditary cancer syndrome seems to be present in a family, the National Cancer Institute recommends that a family member with cancer have genetic testing and genetic counseling first, to identify with certainty if this cancer is due to a hereditary genetic variant.9

What is Genetic Testing?

Genetic testing looks for specific hereditary changes (variants) in a person’s genes,10 is usually requested by a healthcare provider, and is done on a small amount of specimen (blood, saliva, cheek, or skin cells.) Hereditary variants can have a harmful effect (associated with an increased risk of developing cancer), beneficial effect, neutral (or no) effect, or unknown effect on the risk of developing diseases.

How Genetic Counselors Can Help

Genetic counselors are board-certified and experienced in cancer genetics. Generally, genetic counseling is recommended before testing for hereditary cancer syndrome and covers many aspects of the process. A comprehensive risk assessment based on personal or family history may be covered, as well topical discussions including:

  • The appropriateness of genetic testing
  • Discuss specific testing options
  • The risk of passing a variant to children
  • The medical implications of positive, negative, and uncertain test results
  • The possible impact of testing for the family

How Can GenPath Oncology Support You?

If your healthcare provider requests a cancer screening test or genetic testing, consider GenPath Oncology. A division of BioReference Laboratories, Inc., GenPath Oncology is a leading expert in cancer diagnostics and offers a comprehensive test portfolio, including risk assessment for hereditary cancers. GenPath Oncology collaborates with GeneDx, Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of BioReference Laboratories, Inc., an OPKO Health Company.

GeneDx is a global industry leader in genetic testing and has been at the forefront of genetic innovation, pioneering new technologies and gene discovery, and enabling great diagnostic accuracy for patients and families. Among our many services are the online hereditary cancer assessment, MyGeneticsTree, and MyGeneTeam genetic counseling services. Talk to your loved ones about hereditary cancer this holiday season, and if your healthcare provider suspects a risk, consider GenPath Oncology.


  1. American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/genetics/family-cancer-syndromes.html#:~:text=Although%20this%20is%20often%20referred%20to%20as%20inherited,is%20about%20those%20cancers.%20Genes%2C%20mutations%2C%20and%20cancer
  2. BreastCancer.org. https://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/understand_bc/statistics.
  3. Apostolou, P, Fostira, F. Hereditary breast cancer: The era of new susceptibility genes. Biomed Res Int. 2013;2013:747318. doi:10.1155/2013/747318 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3618918/#targetText=Breast%20cancer%20is%20the%20most,reference%20BRCA1%20and%20BRCA2%20genes.
  4. National Institutes of Health. https://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/ovary.html.
  5. American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/prostate-cancer/causes-risks-prevention.html.
  6. American Society of Clinical Oncology. https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/kidney-cancer/risk-factors-and-prevention.
  7. National Kidney Foundation. https://www.ackdjournal.org/article/S1548-5595(13)00144-4/fulltext.
  8. Jasperson, KW, Tuohy, TM, Neklason, DW, Burt, RW. Hereditary and familial colon cancer. Gastroenterology. 2010;138(6):2044–2058. doi:10.1053/j.gastro.2010.01.054 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3057468.
  9. American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/genetics/genetic-testing-fact-sheet#what-genetic-tests-are-available-for-cancer-risk-assessment
  10. American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/genetics/understanding-genetic-testing-for-cancer.html