North Shore LIJ

North Shore - LIJ Cancer Institute

Genetic Counseling

Patients must be referred by a North Shore-LIJ Cancer Institute physician for evaluation to participate in genetic counseling and testing services.

If you have been diagnosed with cancer or may be concerned about close relatives who have or once had cancer, your physician may recommend genetic counseling and testing services as part of your care plan. The comprehensive information you learn at North Shore-LIJ Cancer Institute’s genetic counseling and testing services can help you and your doctor discuss ways to reduce your risk of developing cancer and detect cancer early, when it is more easily treated.

Rapidly Growing Area of Expertise

Every year, genetics research scientists learn more about mutations in our genes that are linked to certain cancers and increase a person's risk for getting those cancers.

Genetic specialists at our Center for Cancer Genetics and Cancer Control offer the most advanced genetic testing procedures to detect inherited factors and gene mutations that increase your risk for developing certain types of cancers such as:

  • Breast and ovarian cancers
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Renal (kidney) cancer
  • Endocrine cancer, including thyroid and pancreatic cancers
  • Skin cancers, including melanoma
  • Gynecological cancers

Who Can Benefit from Cancer Genetic Counseling?

Your physician may refer you for genetic counseling if:

  • You had cancer diagnosed at an early age (such as breast cancer before age 45 or colon cancer before age 50), or had a close family member diagnosed with cancer at an early age
  • You have with two or more close family members diagnosed with the same cancer or related cancers such as breast and ovarian or colon and uterine
  • You have had more than one cancer or a close family member with more than one cancer
  • You are from a family known to have inherited cancer syndrome
  • Certain ethnic groups (such as Ashkenazi Jewish) if you or close family members had breast cancer
  • You have been diagnosed with rare cancer, for example male breast cancer or medullary thyroid cancer

Consulting with our experts in cancer genetics is the best way to obtain the most comprehensive evaluation and the latest information about your risk for hereditary cancer.

It is important for you to understand that if you have a family history of cancer, it doesn't mean you will necessarily have an increased risk of developing cancer. There are many factors that influence cancer development.

The Genetic Counseling Process

Step 1: Genetic Counseling Preliminary Meeting

You'll meet with one of our cancer genetic counselors, who will evaluate your personal and family health history, determine the risks for inherited cancer and help you decide whether testing will be useful to you. During your preliminary meeting, your genetic counselor will provide you with an individualized and detailed discussion of the option for genetic testing and recommendations for preventive screening and treatments.

Step 2: Genetic Testing and Diagnosis

Your genetic counselor will schedule your genetic test, which is normally a simple blood test. Genetic specialists in specialized laboratories will evaluate the test results and confirm the presence or absence of the gene mutations.

Genetics specialists at North Shore-LIJ Cancer Institute's Center for Cancer Genetics and Cancer Control use the most updated information in cancer genetics to offer testing for inherited factors that increase your risk for developing certain types of cancer.

Genetic testing can identify hereditary gene mutations for many cancers and conditions linked to cancers. Among those tested at the center are:

Colorectal cancer genetic testing

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report that about 3% of colorectal cancer cases are due to an inherited condition known as Lynch syndrome. Genetic testing for the diagnosis of Lynch syndrome can determine if you have an increased risk for developing colorectal and uterine cancer.

Breast cancer and ovarian cancer genetic diagnosis and testing

Cancer genetic testing can help men and women determine if they are at greater risk for developing breast cancer because of certain inherited gene mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), women with these gene mutations have a higher risk of also developing ovarian cancer and other types of cancer during their lifetime.

Genetic testing and diagnosis for conditions linked to renal (kidney) cancer

If any of your family members (blood relatives) have or had kidney cancer, especially at a younger age, or if you have been diagnosed with an inherited condition linked to this cancer such as von Hippel-Lindau disease, your doctor may suggest that you have genetic testing to see if you have those specific genetic mutations.

Lynch syndrome genetic diagnosis and testing

Lynch syndrome (LS) is an inherited disorder that increases the risk of many types of cancer, particularly colorectal cancer. People with LS also have an increased risk of cancers of the stomach, small intestine, gall bladder ducts, upper urinary tract, brain and skin. Women with the syndrome have a high risk of ovarian or endometrial cancer. LS genetic testing may be recommended by your physician, especially if a family member has been diagnosed with the disorder. 

Thyroid cancer genetic diagnosis and testing

Genetic testing is available for several genetic mutations associated with an increased risk of certain types of thyroid cancer. They are papillary and follicular thyroid cancer (90% of thyroid cancers are this type), medullary thyroid cancer (MTC) and familial medullary thyroid cancer (FMTC).

Skin cancer genetic diagnosis and testing

Genetic testing for melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, looks for mutations on the CDKN2A gene. Having a mutation in this gene dramatically increases a person's lifetime risk of developing melanoma. Since mutations in the CDKN2A gene are very rare, dermatologists typically recommend genetic testing only in patients who also have other select risk factors.

Step 3: Genetic Counseling Follow-up Meeting

After genetic testing is completed, you'll meet again with your genetic counselor to talk about the test results and their implications for yourself and your relatives.

It's Information, Not a Cancer Diagnosis

If the genetic test reveals that you carry a genetic mutation associated with a cancer that runs in your family, that doesn't mean you'll definitely get the cancer. It just means you're at higher risk. In some instances, it means you'll need to consider taking action and make some lifestyle changes to lower the risk such as: frequent screening, take medications and consider surgical options.

What Happens If You Test Positive

A positive test result can help you and your doctor make informed decisions about how to manage your future risks with an individualized cancer prevention and screening plan.

Considering your higher cancer risk, your doctor may recommend a cancer prevention plan that includes medical management changes. Your cancer screening plan may include more frequent physicals, mammograms, MRIs and colonoscopies

The Effect on Family Members

Positive results from genetic cancer testing also have an impact on your immediate family members. You may decide to share this information with your children so they will consider testing to see if they carry the same gene mutation. You may want to inform other blood relatives, so they can decide what to do.

Knowing your cancer risk can be very empowering for you and your family. Genetic counseling and testing at North Shore-LIJ Cancer Institute's Center for Cancer Genetics and Cancer Control is your trusted source for that vital information.