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Hereditary Cancer & Genetics: Home

What Is Hereditary Cancer?

Cancer is a genetic disease—that is, cancer is caused by certain changes to genes that control the way our cells function, especially how they grow and divide. These changes include mutations in the DNA that makes up our genes.

Genetic changes that increase cancer risk can be inherited from our parents if the changes are present in germ cells, which are the reproductive cells of the body (eggs and sperm). Such changes, called germline changes, are found in every cell of the offspring.

Inherited genetic mutations play a major role in about 5 to 10 percent of all cancers. Researchers have associated mutations in specific genes with more than 50 hereditary cancer syndromes, which are disorders that may predispose individuals to developing certain cancers. Even if a cancer-predisposing mutation is present in a family, not everyone who inherits the mutation will necessarily develop cancer. Several factors influence the outcome in a given person with the mutation.

If you answer “yes” to any of the following questions, genetic counseling may be especially beneficial to you and your family:

  • Have you or any of your relatives been diagnosed with cancer before the age of 50?
  • Have you or any of your relatives been diagnosed with more than one type of cancer or bilateral cancers (i.e. both breasts)?
  • Do you or any of your relatives have rare cancers, such as ovarian cancer?
  • Has the same type of cancer been diagnosed in two or more relatives?
  • Does your family have a known hereditary cancer syndrome?
  • Does your family history of cancer cause you to worry about the risk for you or your children?

Source: National Cancer Institute - The Genetics of Cancer

Genetic Counseling

Genetic Counseling at Ridley-Tree Cancer Center

The Ridley-Tree Cancer Center’s Genetic Counseling program offers hereditary cancer risk counseling to help patients and families with a history of cancer better understand and manage the risk for developing cancer through genetic risk assessment and genetic testing. Our Genetic Counselors translate complex genetic information into understandable recommendations for patients, physicians and families. 

Although most cancer is not inherited, approximately 5 – 10% of people with cancer have a hereditary form or a predisposition to cancer. Hereditary cancers occur because of a change (mutation) in certain genes. Inheriting these genetic mutations can increase a person’s risk for certain types of cancer. These genetic changes can be passed down from generation to generation through the mother’s or father’s side of the family.

Many factors must be considered when discussing cancer risk, including personality, coping style, and family experience with cancer. Our goal is to provide confidential information, reassurance, and support to cancer patients and their families.

The Ridley-Tree Cancer Center offers comprehensive genetic counseling and testing services by a certified genetic counselor to patients and families at suspected risk for hereditary cancer. For more information, visit our website or call (805) 879-5653.


Ridley-Tree Cancer Center Community Lectures - Genetic Counseling and Hereditary Cancer - 49:30 minutes

Danielle Sharaga, MS, LCGC discusses how genetic counseling can help patients and families with a history of cancer better understand and manage the risk of developing cancer through genetic risk assessment and genetic testing.

Helpful Websites

Books at the Resource Library

These are just a few highlights from the Resource Library collection. Please click here to search our online catalog. For more information about the Resource Library and how to borrow materials, visit our website

Resources provided by the Cancer Resource Library are for informational purposes only. The information in these materials may or may not apply to your specific condition, and should not be construed as medical advice. We strongly encourage you to consult your healthcare provider to review anything you learn through these resources.

Ridley-Tree Cancer Center provides comprehensive cancer treatment and support programs for patients and families. We are recognized for medical excellence, a strong clinical research program, and a multidisciplinary approach to cancer prevention.

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