Lifestyle is only one factor that contributes to our likelihood to get some diseases like cancer. Others are environmental, which we may be able to change, and genetic, which we cannot.

However, even though we cannot change our genetic make-up, we can use knowledge of it to ward off cancer. That’s where cancer genetics testing comes in.

“We look at each individual’s family history, genetics, lifestyle and environment to evaluate their risk of getting cancer,” explains Jennifer Scalia Wilbur, MS, a cancer genetic counselor and program manager of the Women & Infants Cancer Genetics and Prevention Program.

Cancer genetic counseling is ideal for anyone with a personal or family history of:

  • Cancer gene mutation.
  • More than one relative on the same side of the family with the same cancer or related cancers.
  • Cancer diagnosed at an early age, such as breast cancer before the age of 50.
  • People with more than one type of cancer.
  • Rare cancers.
  • Ovarian cancer diagnosed at any age.
  • Multiple colorectal polyps or people with such polyps at a young age.
  • Breast or ovarian cancer and Easter European Jewish ancestry.

“Knowing their personal risk for cancer gives people options they wouldn’t otherwise have.”

Counseling is a two-visit process. The genetic counselor will review your medical and family history, discussing the chance that cancer is inherited in your family. If you go for genetic testing, which involves bloodwork, the counselor will talk about the results with you and, based on the test results, recommend cancer screening and any possible risk reduction.

“Women with certain genetic mutations – and we’re finding more mutations all the time – might opt to have their breasts or ovaries surgically removed to reduce the risk of getting cancer,” Wilbur says.

“Knowing their personal risk for cancer gives people options they wouldn’t otherwise have.”

Learn More

Comprehensive cancer risk assessment and prevention counseling is available at locations throughout Rhode Island. For more information please visit the Cancer Genetics and Prevention Program.