Supportive care services

Inherited cancers

When a child is conceived, the baby might inherit a gene with a cancer-causing variant from a parent. If this happens, it increases the child’s risk of cancer. Signs that a cancer is inherited include: 

  • Developing cancer at a young age 
  • Having several blood-related family members with similar or related cancers 
  • Having multiple primary (separate) cancers 
  • Having rare cancers in a family 

At the Clinical Genetics and Genetic Counseling Service at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA), our cancer geneticists and licensed, board-certified genetic counselors specialize in cancer genetics, including inherited cases of cancer. This expertise allows them to offer the best care to patients who have an inherited cancer risk. 

Gene The functional and physical unit of heredity passed from parent to offspring. Genes are pieces of DNA, and most genes contain the information for making a specific protein. Geneticist A scientist who has special training in the study of genes and heredity (the passing of genetic information from parents to their children). A scientist who has special training in the study of genes and heredity (the passing of genetic information from parents to their children). A medical geneticist is a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating genetic disorders or conditions. Medical geneticists also counsel individuals and families at risk for certain genetic disorders or cancers. Mutation Any change in the DNA sequence of a cell. Mutations may be caused by mistakes during cell division, or they may be caused by exposure to DNA-damaging agents in the environment. Any change in the DNA sequence of a cell. Mutations may be caused by mistakes during cell division, or they may be caused by exposure to DNA-damaging agents in the environment. Mutations can be harmful, beneficial or have no effect. If they occur in cells that make eggs or sperm, they can be inherited; mutations that occur in other types of cells are not inherited. Certain mutations may lead to cancer or other diseases. A mutation is sometimes called a variant. Sign In medicine, a sign is something found during a physical exam or from a laboratory test that shows that a person may have a condition or disease. In medicine, a sign is something found during a physical exam or from a laboratory test that shows that a person may have a condition or disease. Some examples of signs are fever, swelling, skin rash, high blood pressure and high blood glucose.

Understanding gene variants 

Cells divide to make copies of themselves, and when this happens, all the genes inside are copied, too. This process isn’t perfect, though. Sometimes random errors, called genetic variants, happen. The body can usually fix these errors, but sometimes one isn’t caught and can continue to copy itself and eventually cause problems.  

When this happens, it means this new cell has a genetic variant that is permanent, and this gene variant gets copied into new cells when that cell makes a copy of itself. Usually, these genetic variants are harmless. But occasionally, one variant may prevent a gene from doing what it is supposed to do. These are called pathogenic variants or disease-causing mutations. 

When these pathogenic variants are in a parent’s egg or sperm, the parent can pass it down to their children. In this example, the family has a hereditary cancer syndrome. But if these pathogenic variants happen when someone is older and are in a body part that is not the egg or sperm (for example, in the breast tissue), then the person has a somatic gene variant. In this example, the somatic gene variant caused the person’s breast cancer, but their biological children are not at risk of inheriting it from them.  

Hereditary cancer syndromes 

Breast and ovarian cancers 

There are several hereditary (inherited) cancer syndromes that include breast cancer. They are: 

  • Hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome (HBOC): People with HBOC have a greater risk of developing certain cancers, especially breast cancer (in both men and women). In women, there is also a greater risk of ovarian cancer, and in men, prostate cancer. Pancreatic cancer may be a risk as well. People with this syndrome often develop cancer before the age of 50.  
  • Peutz-Jeghers syndrome (PJS): People with this disease develop polyps and dark-colored spots that can appear on different parts of the body. People with PJS are at greater risk of some types of cancer. 
  • Li-Fraumeni syndrome (LFS): This condition makes a person more likely to develop certain cancers, including cancers of the bone, brain, breast, blood, adrenal gland and muscle or connective tissues. 
  • Cowden syndrome (CS): People with CS are at increased risk of developing certain cancers, including breast, thyroid, endometrial (lining of the uterus) and kidney cancer. Often, they also have macrocephaly (larger-than-average head size), skin abnormalities and colorectal polyps. 
  • Neurofibromatosis 1 (NF1): People with this condition develop tumors in their brain, spinal cord and nerves. Usually, NF1 is noncancerous.  

Women who carry a disease-causing variant in BRCA1 or BRCA2 (for BReast CAncer1 and BReast CAncer2) have an increased risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. Children of a person with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene variant have a 50 percent chance of inheriting it at conception. Other genes, such as TP53 and PALB2, also increase the risk of cancer when a disease-causing variant is present.  

In 1994, the first gene associated with breast cancer, BRCA1, was identified on chromosome 17 by Mary-Claire King, PhD, a genetics and medicine professor and world-renowned researcher at one of SCCA’s alliance partners, UW Medicine.
A year later, BRCA2 was discovered on chromosome 13.  

Chromosome Part of a cell that contains genetic information. Except for sperm and eggs, all human cells contain 46 chromosomes. Gene The functional and physical unit of heredity passed from parent to offspring. Genes are pieces of DNA, and most genes contain the information for making a specific protein. Gene The functional and physical unit of heredity passed from parent to offspring. Genes are pieces of DNA, and most genes contain the information for making a specific protein. Hereditary In medicine, this describes the passing of genetic information from parent to child through the genes in sperm and egg cells. Also called inherited. Mutation Any change in the DNA sequence of a cell. Mutations may be caused by mistakes during cell division, or they may be caused by exposure to DNA-damaging agents in the environment. Any change in the DNA sequence of a cell. Mutations may be caused by mistakes during cell division, or they may be caused by exposure to DNA-damaging agents in the environment. Mutations can be harmful, beneficial or have no effect. If they occur in cells that make eggs or sperm, they can be inherited; mutations that occur in other types of cells are not inherited. Certain mutations may lead to cancer or other diseases. A mutation is sometimes called a variant.
Risk assessment and genetic testing for breast and ovarian cancers

Cancer risk assessment that includes genetic counseling and testing is available for hereditary breast and ovarian cancers at the Clinical Genetics and Genetic Counseling Service at SCCA. If you have already had genetic testing and are found to be at high risk, our multidisciplinary experts at SCCA’s Breast and Ovarian Cancer Prevention Program can provide personalized cancer screening and a prevention plan. For more information, call (206) 606-6100. 

Clinical Genetics and Genetic Counseling Service

Breast and Ovarian Cancer Prevention Program

Genetic testing Tests that can be done to see if a person has certain gene changes known to increase cancer risk. Hereditary In medicine, this describes the passing of genetic information from parent to child through the genes in sperm and egg cells. Also called inherited. Screening Checking for disease when there are no symptoms. Because screening may find diseases at an early stage, there may be a better chance of curing the disease Checking for disease when there are no symptoms. Because screening may find diseases at an early stage, there may be a better chance of curing the disease. Examples of cancer screening tests are the mammogram (for breast cancer), colonoscopy (for colon cancer) and Pap and HPV tests (for cervical cancer). Screening can also include a genetic test to check for a person’s risk of developing an inherited disease.

Prostate cancer  

More than one in 10 men with advanced prostate cancer carry inherited genes that increase their risk for faster-growing forms of the disease that are more likely to spread. Knowing whether a man carries one of these genes may help his physician more precisely tailor his prostate cancer treatment.  

Gene The functional and physical unit of heredity passed from parent to offspring. Genes are pieces of DNA, and most genes contain the information for making a specific protein.
Genetic counseling for prostate cancer

Men diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer may want to consider a consultation at SCCA's Prostate Cancer Genetics Clinic. For men who don’t have active cancer but have a strong family history of prostate cancer, cancer risk assessment that includes genetic counseling and testing is available at the Clinical Genetics and Genetic Counseling Service at SCCA.  

Clinical Genetics and Genetic Counseling Service

Prostate Cancer Genetics Clinic

Colorectal cancer  

There are several hereditary cancer syndromes that include colorectal cancer: 

  • Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP): People with FAP develop hundreds to thousands of precancerous polyps. Unless the polyps or colon are removed, they will develop into colon cancer. These people are also at increased risk of developing other non-colon cancers. 
  • Familial colorectal cancer type X (FCCTX): Families with familial colorectal cancer type X appear to have increased risk only for colorectal cancer. Researchers have not yet found an association with a higher risk of developing other cancers. 
  • Lynch syndrome (LS), also known as hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC): People with Lynch syndrome have an increased lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer. However, they do not develop many precancerous colon polyps. Women with Lynch syndrome have a higher risk of developing endometrial cancer and ovarian cancer, too. 
  • MYH-associated polyposis (MAP): MAP is thought to have similar cancer risks to FAP, but it is not as well understood as other genes. More research needs to be done to fully understand the risks associated with this syndrome.  
Gene The functional and physical unit of heredity passed from parent to offspring. Genes are pieces of DNA, and most genes contain the information for making a specific protein. Hereditary In medicine, this describes the passing of genetic information from parent to child through the genes in sperm and egg cells. Also called inherited. Lynch syndrome An inherited disorder in which affected individuals have a higher-than-normal chance of developing colorectal cancer and certain other types of cancer, often before the age of 50. Precancerous A condition that may (or is likely to) become cancer. Also called premalignant.
Genetic testing and risk assessment for colorectal cancers

Genetic counseling and testing is available at the Clinical Genetics and Genetic Counseling Service at SCCA.   

Individuals with increased risk of developing colorectal, pancreatic, prostate and other gastrointestinal cancers can make an appointment at the SCCA Gastrointestinal Cancer Prevention Program. Their care team may include a gastroenterologist, medical oncologist, genetic counselor, registered dietitian and social worker. 

Clinical Genetics and Genetic Counseling Service

Gastrointentional Cancer Prevention Program

Gastroenterologist Gastroenterologists are trained to diagnose and treat diseases of the gastrointestinal system, including cancers of the liver, pancreas, esophagus, stomach, colon, rectum and anus. Gastrointestinal Refers to the stomach and intestines. Also called GI. Genetic counselor A health care professional with special training in medical genetics and counseling. Genetic counselors help patients and families who have, or who may be at risk of, a genetic condition. A health professional who has special training in medical genetics and counseling. Genetic counselors help patients and families who have, or who may be at risk of, a genetic condition. They help patients find out their chances of having a genetic condition or of having a child or other family member with a genetic condition. They also help patients understand their options for genetic testing, including its risks and benefits. After genetic testing is done, genetic counselors help patients understand their test results, including how the results can affect other family members. They also provide counseling and support. Medical oncologist A physician who has special training in diagnosing and treating cancer in adults using chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, biological therapy and targeted therapy. A physician who has special training in diagnosing and treating cancer in adults using chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, biological therapy and targeted therapy. A medical oncologist is often the main health care provider for someone who has cancer. A medical oncologist also gives supportive care and may coordinate treatment given by other specialists.

Pancreatic cancer  

Pancreatic cancer may be associated with several hereditary cancer syndromes: 

  • Hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome (HBOC): People with HBOC have a greater risk of developing certain cancers, especially breast cancer (in both men and women). In women, there is also a greater risk of ovarian cancer, and in men, prostate cancer. Pancreatic cancer may be a risk as well. People with this syndrome often develop cancer before the age of 50.  
  • Peutz-Jeghers syndrome (PJS): People with this disease develop polyps and dark-colored spots that can appear on different parts of the body. People with PJS are at greater risk for some types of cancer. 
  • Familial atypical multiple mole melanoma syndrome (FAMMM): People with this syndrome have many moles, and some are abnormal. They are typically noncancerous, but they increase the risk of developing melanoma as well as pancreatic cancer.  
  • Hereditary chronic pancreatitis: This syndrome causes the pancreas to become inflamed. This inflammation causes damage over time and increases the risk of a person developing pancreatic cancer. 
  • Lynch syndrome (LS), also known as hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC): People with Lynch syndrome have an increased lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer. However, they do not develop many precancerous colon polyps. Women with Lynch syndrome have a higher risk of developing endometrial cancer and ovarian cancer, too. 
Hereditary In medicine, this describes the passing of genetic information from parent to child through the genes in sperm and egg cells. Also called inherited. Lynch syndrome An inherited disorder in which affected individuals have a higher-than-normal chance of developing colorectal cancer and certain other types of cancer, often before the age of 50. Melanoma Cancer that begins in the melanocytes (cells that make the pigment melanin). It may begin in a mole (skin melanoma), but it can also begin in other pigmented tissues, such as the eye or the intestines. Precancerous A condition that may (or is likely to) become cancer. Also called premalignant.
Genetic testing and risk assessment for pancreatic cancer

Genetic counseling and testing for hereditary pancreatic cancer is available at the Clinical Genetics and Genetic Counseling Service at SCCA.  

Teri Brentnall, MD, is a gastroenterologist and researcher. She works with families who have pancreatic cancer to identify the genes that cause hereditary pancreatic cancer not associated with the conditions listed above. People with increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer can meet with Dr. Brentnall and her team at SCCA’s Gastrointestinal Cancer Prevention Program to develop a pancreatic cancer screening and prevention plan. 

Clinical Genetics and Genetic Counseling Service

Gastrointestinal Cancer Prevention Program

Gastroenterologist Gastroenterologists are trained to diagnose and treat diseases of the gastrointestinal system, including cancers of the liver, pancreas, esophagus, stomach, colon, rectum and anus. Gene The functional and physical unit of heredity passed from parent to offspring. Genes are pieces of DNA, and most genes contain the information for making a specific protein. Hereditary In medicine, this describes the passing of genetic information from parent to child through the genes in sperm and egg cells. Also called inherited. Screening Checking for disease when there are no symptoms. Because screening may find diseases at an early stage, there may be a better chance of curing the disease Checking for disease when there are no symptoms. Because screening may find diseases at an early stage, there may be a better chance of curing the disease. Examples of cancer screening tests are the mammogram (for breast cancer), colonoscopy (for colon cancer) and Pap and HPV tests (for cervical cancer). Screening can also include a genetic test to check for a person’s risk of developing an inherited disease.

Melanoma  

Hereditary melanoma is linked to many cancerous and noncancerous skin growths, as well as pancreatic cancer. People with fair (light) skin are generally at increased risk of developing melanoma.  

Differences in skin color, or pigmentation, are due largely to the melanocortin-1 receptor (MC1R) gene. Researchers have found a link between inherited and acquired genetic factors that increase a person’s chance of developing a very common type of melanoma. Certain changes in the MC1R gene can give people a much higher genetic risk of developing this type of melanoma, even if they have not had excessive sun exposure and variable pigmentation. 

Gene The functional and physical unit of heredity passed from parent to offspring. Genes are pieces of DNA, and most genes contain the information for making a specific protein. Hereditary In medicine, this describes the passing of genetic information from parent to child through the genes in sperm and egg cells. Also called inherited. Melanoma Cancer that begins in the melanocytes (cells that make the pigment melanin). It may begin in a mole (skin melanoma), but it can also begin in other pigmented tissues, such as the eye or the intestines.
Genetic testing and risk assessment for hereditary melanoma

Genetic counseling and genetic testing is available for hereditary melanoma at the Clinical Genetics and Genetic Counseling Service at SCCA.  

Clinical Genetics and Genetic Counseling Service

Genetic testing Tests that can be done to see if a person has certain gene changes known to increase cancer risk. Hereditary In medicine, this describes the passing of genetic information from parent to child through the genes in sperm and egg cells. Also called inherited. Melanoma Cancer that begins in the melanocytes (cells that make the pigment melanin). It may begin in a mole (skin melanoma), but it can also begin in other pigmented tissues, such as the eye or the intestines.

Leukemia and blood disorders  

Patients who are at risk for leukemia or a blood disorder fit one of the following criteria: 

  • Have a personal or family history of long-standing blood count abnormalities of an unknown cause. 
  • Have a personal history of a blood cancer with close relative(s) who also have blood cancers. 
  • Were diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) or acute myeloid leukemia (AML) before the age of 45. 
    • MDS: Disorders that develop when blood cell production is disrupted. 
    • AML: A type of cancer caused by abnormal blood cells forming in the bone marrow
  • Have a known family history of low white blood counts, inherited bone marrow failure syndrome (IBMFS) or an inherited risk of a blood disease such as: 
    • Familial platelet disorder (FPD) with propensity to myeloid malignancies, such as RUNX1 disease-causing variants 
    • Familial MDS/AML, such as GATA2 disease-causing variants  
    • Telomere biology disorder or another IBMFS, such as Diamond Blackfan anemia or Shwachman Diamond syndrome 
    • Another known inherited MDS/acute leukemia predisposition syndrome, such as disease-causing variants in ETV6 and DDX41 genes 
Anemia A condition in which the number of red blood cells is below normal. Bone marrow The soft, spongy material in the center of your bones that produces all your blood cells, such as white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets. Gene The functional and physical unit of heredity passed from parent to offspring. Genes are pieces of DNA, and most genes contain the information for making a specific protein. Platelet A tiny, disc-shaped piece of a cell that is found in the blood and spleen. Platelets help form blood clots to slow or stop bleeding and to help wounds heal. A tiny, disc-shaped piece of a cell that is found in the blood and spleen. Platelets are pieces of very large cells in the bone marrow called megakaryocytes. They help form blood clots to slow or stop bleeding and to help wounds heal. Having too many or too few platelets, or having platelets that do not work as they should, can cause problems. Checking the number of platelets in the blood may help diagnose certain diseases or conditions.
Genetic testing and risk assessment for hereditary leukemia or blood disorders

SCCA is one of only a few cancer centers in the nation to offer a Hematologic Malignancy Genetics Clinic. This program provides personalized risk assessment and follow-up care for adult patients and family members who may be at increased risk of developing hematologic malignancies due to an underlying genetic cause. Patients who come to us have been referred to our clinic for evaluation by their primary care physician. To schedule an appointment, call (855) 557-0555.  

Hematologic Malignancy Genetics Clinic