Genetic Cancer Risk Assessment

Genetics contribute to your risk of developing cancer. Sometimes cancer can run in families when mutations (harmful changes) in genes are passed down through generations. These changes might put you at risk for cancer.

At University of Missouri Health Care’s Ellis Fischel Cancer Center, we work with you to provide a cancer risk assessment to inform you about your risk of developing cancers.

The Ellis Fischel difference

At Ellis Fischel, our physicians are here to provide you with the most advanced treatment, care, and up-to-date genetic testing options. About five to 10 percent of cancers are inherited, and we want to provide you with your cancer risk assessment and determine if cancer in the family is likely hereditary, familial or sporadic (happened by chance). With our expertise, we can then personalize your cancer treatment to offer you the most advanced care available using innovative and leading-edge treatment.

Who should have a genetic cancer risk assessment?

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network recommends people who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, ovarian cancer, pancreatic cancer or metastatic prostate cancer should undergo genetic testing. This may help any family members understand their risk for cancer as well. Your family members could also be eligible for genetic test and should talk to their doctor if you've received a cancer diagnosis. Because some cancers run in families, such as colon, uterine, thyroid, kidney and sarcoma, you may be able to test for cancer mutations to see if you're predisposed. Talk to your doctor to learn more.

Take Our Breast Cancer Risk Assessment

Preparing for genetic testing

Genetic testing starts with a telephone call. You should anticipate an informative and thoughtful conversation with your doctor or genetic testing representative to discuss:

  • Your family health history.
  • Your motivation for testing.
  • Talk about treatment plans based on your results.

You will then learn what tests are available, what those tests might show and discuss whether testing is something you would like to pursue. You'll be asked to visit a laboratory to leave a blood sample or a kit will be mailed to you to collect a saliva sample.

Please feel free to have someone with you at your appointment. It's always helpful to have someone else who can listen, take notes and ask questions you might not think of. In addition, please have ready:

  • Information about the family history of cancer, tumors, and/or polyps, and age of onset of the cancer. We ask questions about family members from three generations (siblings, children, parents, aunts/uncles, nieces/nephews, grandparents and may include cousins, great-grandparents, great-aunts and great-uncles).
  • Copies of any genetic test results from previous testing in you or relatives.

Frequently Asked Questions

How is genetic testing done?

Genetic testing is a simple process. Usually it can be done by collecting a blood or saliva sample. The sample is sent to a laboratory, which runs the tests. Results typically are available within a few weeks.

What are the risks of genetic testing?

Genetic testing is not anticipated to cause any significant health risks. It is typically a blood draw or saliva spit sample. 

How much does it cost?

Genetic testing (cancer gene panel) typically costs from $250 to $400 and is often covered by insurance. In many cases, health insurance covers genetic testing when it is recommended by a doctor. Your doctor can write a referral for genetic testing if you're eligible. A benefits investigation is typically run by the testing laboratory to determine coverage for a genetic test from a health insurance company. Different companies have different policies. Some cover certain tests but not others. As with most health care services, you might need to pay for some of the cost. If the cost is too high, you might be notified before testing is completed and can cancel testing at no charge to you.

What happens if my results show an increased risk of cancer?

Genetic testing can help identify if you inherited a gene mutation that caused your cancer, and, if so, this information could help doctors treat you more effectively. Researchers have found some inherited types of cancer don't respond to standard treatments. In some cases those cancers respond very well to other treatments. Knowing if your cancer is inherited can also help determine who else in your family is at risk, who else is the family would benefit from genetic counseling and testing, and steps they can take to avoid getting cancer. Learn more.

Can my insurance company discriminate against me based on my results?

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) protects you and your genetic information from being used (in a company with 15 or more employees) in employment decisions and when determining your eligibility for medical insurance. This helps ensure that you can pursue genetic testing and medical care as well as participate in clinical research without fear of having that information used against you or your family members. Be aware that GINA does not protect you against discrimination in the purchase of life, disability or long-term care insurance. Learn more about GINA and protection against genetic discrimination.

Should I just use a direct-to-consumer at-home test?

There are several different ways to get genetic testing. Genetic tests you can order at home without a health care provider aren’t regulated like genetic tests that are ordered by a doctor. Home testing kits may not provide the information you are looking for and often there is no guidance about how to interpret the results. Learn more about the difference between physician-ordered genetic testing and direct-to-consumer at-home testing.

How can my condition be genetic (hereditary) if no one else in my family has it?

There are different ways you can inherit a genetic variant that can cause a disease or condition. Because of the way genetics works, it is possible for you to have a new genetic mutation that neither of your biological parents have, although this is rare. It is also possible to inherit a condition that no one else in your family seems to have. Others in your family may have the same mutation and eventually develop the condition, or some may never develop the condition because of environmental or other factors. In other cases, people in your family may be carriers of a condition – meaning they can pass it to their children without ever showing signs of it.

Can genetic counseling help me if I don't know anything about my family history?

Yes. Although family history is helpful, there are a number of ways genetic counseling can help you even if you don't know anything about it. If you've been diagnosed with cancer under the age of 50, or if it is a rare type of cancer, genetic counseling can help you decide whether genetic testing might be beneficial.