Familial Cancer Risks & Diseases

We offer advanced testing and counseling on the correlation between your cancer risk and your family history

If your family experiences a cluster of cancers, or if the same type of cancer appears in multiple family members at a younger-than-expected age, your family may carry a gene for familial cancer. The IU Health Familial Cancer Program (first of its kind in Indiana) offers advanced testing and counseling on the correlation of cancer risk and family history.

Often, people refer to familial cancer as genetic or hereditary cancer. Familial cancers include:

Most cancers occur randomly; not tied to hereditary conditions. Between five and 15 percent of cancers are related to inherited genetic factors. The media tends to overstate the hereditary nature of some cancers, such as breast cancer.

If your family does carry a gene for a familial cancer, you should know your risks for developing the cancer or passing it to your children. This knowledge allows you to maintain your health, take preventive measures and manage cancer if you or a family member develops it.

Signs

Signs or indicators of familial cancers include:

  • Multiple biological relatives with cancer
  • Cancer diagnosed at an earlier-than-usual age
  • Biological relatives in two or more generations with cancer
  • A person with more than one primary cancer
  • Family members with rare or unusual cancer
  • People with cancer in paired organs, such as cancer in both kidneys

Diagnosis

No single diagnostic test can confirm familial cancer, unless you have a specific genetic mutation that physicians can track with genetic testing. In most cases, your physician uses your personal and family medical history to look for signs of familial cancers. For example, if you, your grandmother, and your mother all developed breast cancer in your 30s, it clearly indicates hereditary cancer

If your physician determines a high likelihood of cancer in your family, he or she may recommend genetic testing. Your physician can test for cancer susceptibility genes to assist him or her in making a diagnosis. It can also provide a more detailed understanding of your risks for developing cancer.

Talk to a genetic counselor before undergoing genetic testing to understand the implications of test results.

Overview

Often, people refer to familial cancer as genetic or hereditary cancer. Familial cancers include:

Most cancers occur randomly; not tied to hereditary conditions. Between five and 15 percent of cancers are related to inherited genetic factors. The media tends to overstate the hereditary nature of some cancers, such as breast cancer.

If your family does carry a gene for a familial cancer, you should know your risks for developing the cancer or passing it to your children. This knowledge allows you to maintain your health, take preventive measures and manage cancer if you or a family member develops it.

Signs

Signs or indicators of familial cancers include:

  • Multiple biological relatives with cancer
  • Cancer diagnosed at an earlier-than-usual age
  • Biological relatives in two or more generations with cancer
  • A person with more than one primary cancer
  • Family members with rare or unusual cancer
  • People with cancer in paired organs, such as cancer in both kidneys

Diagnosis

No single diagnostic test can confirm familial cancer, unless you have a specific genetic mutation that physicians can track with genetic testing. In most cases, your physician uses your personal and family medical history to look for signs of familial cancers. For example, if you, your grandmother, and your mother all developed breast cancer in your 30s, it clearly indicates hereditary cancer

If your physician determines a high likelihood of cancer in your family, he or she may recommend genetic testing. Your physician can test for cancer susceptibility genes to assist him or her in making a diagnosis. It can also provide a more detailed understanding of your risks for developing cancer.

Talk to a genetic counselor before undergoing genetic testing to understand the implications of test results.

Your IU Health physicians help you understand your cancer risk, and help you prepare a plan to manage and maintain your future health.

IU Health physicians’ affiliation with the Indiana University School of Medicine Division of Clinical and Biochemical Genetics allows you access to experts at the Indiana Familial Cancer Program. The program includes the Indiana Familial Cancer Clinic, designed to assist you, your physician and/or your oncologist in helping you live with a familial cancer. The program maintains familial cancer registries, including one for pancreatic cancer, and an extensive DNA databank for researchers and clinicians to study the causes and treatments of cancer.
Your physicians will help you reflect on the information shared and will take the time to answer all your questions. They refer you to cancer care specialists at the IU Health Simon Cancer Center who work with you to create an effective treatment plan including:

Genetic Counseling

Your genetic counselors will answer all of your questions, and arrange for and coordinate any required testing. They take time to talk with you and your family about:

  • The genetic basis of your disorder
  • Its natural history
  • How you inherit it
  • How to manage it
  • Risks and implications for your children, your siblings and extended family
  • How to share this information with other family members

Genetic Testing

In some cases, your genetic counselor and physician may recommend genetic testing to help make a diagnosis or gain a better understanding of your risk for a familial cancer.

Specialty Clinics

IU Health physicians operate several specialty clinics related to familial cancers. These clinics offer advanced prevention and treatment options for high-risk individuals. They include the Indiana Familial Cancer Clinic, the Catherine Peachey Breast Cancer Prevention Program and the Indiana University Pancreatic Cyst and Cancer Early Detection Clinic.

Cancer Care

At the IU Health Simon Cancer Center, your physicians offer leading-edge therapies and treatments for many familial cancers, including:

Research

Your physicians actively engage in research to study familial cancers, test new therapies and find ways to improve outcomes for patients. Their intensive research efforts give you access to the newest treatments and clinical trials.

Treatment

Your IU Health physicians help you understand your cancer risk, and help you prepare a plan to manage and maintain your future health.

IU Health physicians’ affiliation with the Indiana University School of Medicine Division of Clinical and Biochemical Genetics allows you access to experts at the Indiana Familial Cancer Program. The program includes the Indiana Familial Cancer Clinic, designed to assist you, your physician and/or your oncologist in helping you live with a familial cancer. The program maintains familial cancer registries, including one for pancreatic cancer, and an extensive DNA databank for researchers and clinicians to study the causes and treatments of cancer.
Your physicians will help you reflect on the information shared and will take the time to answer all your questions. They refer you to cancer care specialists at the IU Health Simon Cancer Center who work with you to create an effective treatment plan including:

Genetic Counseling

Your genetic counselors will answer all of your questions, and arrange for and coordinate any required testing. They take time to talk with you and your family about:

  • The genetic basis of your disorder
  • Its natural history
  • How you inherit it
  • How to manage it
  • Risks and implications for your children, your siblings and extended family
  • How to share this information with other family members

Genetic Testing

In some cases, your genetic counselor and physician may recommend genetic testing to help make a diagnosis or gain a better understanding of your risk for a familial cancer.

Specialty Clinics

IU Health physicians operate several specialty clinics related to familial cancers. These clinics offer advanced prevention and treatment options for high-risk individuals. They include the Indiana Familial Cancer Clinic, the Catherine Peachey Breast Cancer Prevention Program and the Indiana University Pancreatic Cyst and Cancer Early Detection Clinic.

Cancer Care

At the IU Health Simon Cancer Center, your physicians offer leading-edge therapies and treatments for many familial cancers, including:

Research

Your physicians actively engage in research to study familial cancers, test new therapies and find ways to improve outcomes for patients. Their intensive research efforts give you access to the newest treatments and clinical trials.

Patient Stories for Familial Cancer Risks & Diseases

Indiana Familial Cancer Program

This Indiana University School of Medicine center assists patients and their physicians in understanding and researching familial cancers.

National Cancer Institute

This National Institutes of Health website provides extensive patient information about many types of cancer.

VHL Family Alliance

This website focuses on sharing information about the genetic form of cancer known as von Hippel-Lindau. This is a familial cancer that involves the blood vessels and tumors in one or more parts of the body. The website offers helpful information for patients and families.

Resources

Indiana Familial Cancer Program

This Indiana University School of Medicine center assists patients and their physicians in understanding and researching familial cancers.

National Cancer Institute

This National Institutes of Health website provides extensive patient information about many types of cancer.

VHL Family Alliance

This website focuses on sharing information about the genetic form of cancer known as von Hippel-Lindau. This is a familial cancer that involves the blood vessels and tumors in one or more parts of the body. The website offers helpful information for patients and families.