It can be valuable to look at one’s family history to determine whether the cancer in the family may have an inherited component. Genetic counselors often work in clinics with doctors (usually geneticists, oncologists, or gastroenterologists) and focus on cancer risk. Having a family member with cancer does not always mean that a person’s cancer risk is high. Collecting information about which family members had cancer, the type of cancer and the age of diagnosis helps genetic counselors assess the chances that the cancer is inherited.

Genetic counselors also estimate the lifetime likelihood that an individual will develop cancer based on the individual’s health and family history. The physician and genetic counselor provide recommendations for screening; including the type of screening test and the age at which an individual should be tested. For some families, genetic testing may be available. Genetic testing, usually performed with a blood sample, may provide information about who in the family is at an increased risk for cancer and who is at the average general population risk for developing cancer.