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The Department of Genetics at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA), Philadelphia, offers cancer genetics education, counseling and testing. This program strives to address some questions patients have about whether an inherited pre-disposition contributed to their cancer.

Overview of cancer genetics

All cancer has a genetic basis. Cancer is a condition triggered by mutations (changes) in the genes of a cell that result in uncontrolled, abnormal cell growth.

Cancer most often occurs as a result of a combination of gene mutations influenced by environmental factors and lifestyle. All of us acquire gene mutations as we age. Some mutations are repaired, and some are not. Most people who develop cancer are over the age of 50, since it takes many years for enough genetic changes to accumulate to the point that cancer develops.

Some families have gene mutations that are passed down from one generation to the next. Members of these families may inherit a mutation in a very important gene that is present at birth and in every cell in the body. Individuals who inherit one of these mutations don’t inherit cancer, but inherit an increased risk of developing cancer. However, not everyone who is born with a gene mutation will develop cancer.

Individuals who have inherited a mutation in a cancer-susceptible gene have a greater-than-average risk of developing certain cancers. And patients whose cancer is due to a mutation in an inherited cancer-susceptible gene have an increased risk of developing a second cancer. The goal of our Cancer Genetics Program is to identify these patients and then offer options to reduce the risk of getting another cancer.

The program

Our Cancer Genetics Program may help you determine if your cancer was due to an inherited gene mutation and if you are at an increased risk of developing a second cancer. The program consists of genetics education, counseling and testing services. You will learn about the role of genes and heredity in the development of cancer and which of your family members may be affected.

The program includes:

  • An introduction to cancer genetics
  • A review of your personal and family history of cancer
  • An individualized hereditary cancer risk assessment
  • Genetics education, counseling and testing

Hereditary risk assessment

During your initial evaluation period at the hospital, you will learn about the role that genes and heredity play in the development of cancer, and how it may relate to your situation.

You will fill out a family history questionnaire, which includes questions regarding your personal and family history of cancer. This information will help determine if you are a candidate for genetic testing.

The following are some common signs of a hereditary cancer pre-disposition:

  • Family member with a known inherited gene mutation
  • Breast, colon or uterine cancer diagnosed under the age of 50
  • Ovarian cancer diagnosed at any age
  • Two or more close family members who have had the same type of cancer
  • The same type of cancer in several generations of the family

Genetic testing

If your personal and family history merits an introductory genetics education session, you can then decide whether you would like to pursue genetic counseling and testing.

Genetic testing consists of a mouthwash or blood test. Analysis of the sample may determine if you inherited a gene mutation that contributed to your cancer diagnosis. Genetic testing may also help determine whether you are at greater risk of developing the same cancer again or of developing another type of cancer.

Learn more about genetic testing

Genetic counseling

Before and after genetic testing, you will have a counseling session. During this time, we will help simplify the complex concepts into terms you can understand. The goal is to provide clear information about genetic risk factors and address your questions and concerns. Participating in an introductory education session does not obligate you to have genetic testing performed.

If you wish to pursue genetic counseling and testing once you leave the hospital, we will try to help you find someone close to home.

Learn more about genetic counseling

Results of genetic testing

Genetic testing may help you make informed decisions about how to manage future cancer risks. For example, if it is determined that you are at greater risk than the “average” patient for breast cancer recurrence, we may recommend adding breast MRIs to your routine screenings.

Also, if you are a woman who has breast cancer and you find out that you have an inherited risk, you may be at an increased risk for developing ovarian cancer. We will present you with options to reduce that risk.

The test results may help your CTCA® doctor develop a plan of care individualized just for you. Test results can also be of great value to family members.

Psychological benefits and risks

Genetic testing also poses psychological benefits and risks. A negative result may bring a sense of relief and reduce some of your worry and anxiety. It may also eliminate the need for more frequent checkups and tests that are routine in individuals with a high risk of cancer.

A positive result may help relieve uncertainty and help you take steps to reduce the risk of recurrence or of developing another cancer. At the same time, a positive result may also cause some anxiety. You may experience feelings of guilt if you learn that you are positive for a gene mutation and that you passed this mutation onto an offspring.

However, it’s important to remember that testing positive for a gene mutation is not a guarantee of developing cancer. Some people who test positive for a mutation never develop cancer.

Supportive care services

Your care team is available to address these dimensions of genetic testing. For instance, the mind-body medicine and pastoral care teams may help you cope psychologically with the results of genetic testing. The nutrition team may also help you maintain your nutritional well-being to support your immune system and reduce the risk of recurrence.

Together with other clinical departments, the Department of Genetics will educate, counsel, support and empower you throughout your cancer care.

The genetics team at CTCA in Philadelphia

About half of the patients who are initially evaluated through the Cancer Genetics Program at CTCA Philadelphia pursue genetic testing. So far, about one in 50 patients have tested positive for inherited risk.

Genetic testing also helps determine if your family members may have an inherited risk for cancer. Because our Cancer Genetics Program is available only to patients, interested family members may be referred to other genetic counselors in their geographic area.

Philadelphia Hospital

Where we are located

CTCA Philadelphia

Department of Genetics
1331 E. Wyoming Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19124
New patients: 855-635-3218 | Existing Patients: (215) 607-CTCA

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