High risk cancer surveillance
Although finding out you are at high risk for a cancer is not welcome news, it is an important first step that can ultimately be empowering. Knowing your risk means you can manage it more actively — and if a disease does begin to develop, it can often be caught in a precancerous or early stage, when it is most treatable.
At the High Risk Surveillance Clinic at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA), we offer a personalized approach to managing your cancer risk, which combines monitoring, lifestyle changes and education to help reduce your risk while supporting your overall physical and emotional health.
High Risk Surveillance Clinic
We work with people who are already SCCA patients as well as those who are new to SCCA, managing their risk and working closely with their primary care physician and other health care providers. And, when appropriate, we can draw on our entire network of SCCA medical experts — from urologists and gastroenterologists to blood cancer experts, pulmonary specialists and more — to gain further insights or get you the care you may need.
If the results of your genetic testing or risk assessment at one of SCCA’s prevention programs show that you may be at a higher risk of developing a hereditary cancer — for example, if a certain type of cancer runs in your family — that program may refer you to us. We’ll call you to schedule your appointment.
What happens at your visit
Like other patients who come to our clinic, you have a higher risk of cancer. However, there are many factors that make you entirely unique: the type of disease you are preventing or managing, your overall health, your age, your specific genetic risk and more. We consider all of these factors when managing your risk.
At your first appointment, our cancer geneticist will meet with you to discuss your unique situation and surveillance plan, going over any imaging or tests that have already been done and how we will work together to implement the plan. If you do not yet have a prevention plan, we will work with you to develop one. We may also discuss referrals to other specialists as needed.
The follow-up care you have will vary: You may go to an SCCA location for a screening, such as a colonoscopy. Or your primary care physician may arrange a test for you, such as a blood test. You might need some tests more often, perhaps every other month. For other tests, you may only need screening once or twice a year.
As time passes, we will continue to review your plan, and we may decide to change it. If so, we’ll discuss the changes, and why we are making them, with you.
Many screening strategies are available, and the screening and surveillance used for you will depend on your unique circumstances and type of disease. Imaging is one of the most common types of screening, but other organ-specific screenings may also be used. For example, if you are at high risk for colon cancer, regular colonoscopies can be used to detect precancerous polyps and remove them. Or, if you are at high risk for prostate cancer, active surveillance will likely include a combination of regular blood tests to measure a protein made by the prostate, called PSA, as well as regular digital rectal exams (DREs). We will help ensure you get the screenings you need on a schedule that is best for you.
Preventive therapy may be a prevention strategy that’s right for you. Preventive therapy is when a physician prescribes vaccines, medications or natural therapies to help block cancer cells from growing. Sometimes it can be used to stop or even reverse the growth of precancerous cells where damage has already occurred. Preventive therapy benefits a variety of people: healthy people at high risk of developing certain cancers; people with precancerous conditions; and people who have already been treated for cancer, to help keep it from coming back.
Risk reduction surgery is sometimes recommended in healthy people who have a high risk of developing cancer. It may also be used to remove tissues that do not contain cancerous cells but could become cancerous. For instance, polyps (clumps of cells) in the colon could be removed if they are considered precancerous. Risk reduction surgery might also be performed if you have already been treated for or diagnosed with a type of cancer.
Regardless of the type of cancer you may be at risk for, you can adopt lifestyle habits that will support your overall health and help reduce risk. These range from stopping smoking and losing weight to making specific changes to your diet.
Our team will identify lifestyle habits you can improve, and we can get you the support and resources you need to change them in your daily life.
Our cancer geneticist is one of the few medical doctors in the U.S. who has trained in preventive medicine, medical oncology and medical genetics. She has experience in using genetic tools to help understand how certain targeted therapies can help patients at high risk of cancer. She considers cancer and risk of cancers from many different angles, and she designs plans for screening, surveillance, early detection and prevention for patients who have a higher genetic risk of cancer.
These health care professionals work closely with your physician in the clinic. There are two types: physician assistants (PAs) and advanced registered nurse practitioners (ARNPs). They help provide and coordinate your care and can see you independently from your physician.
Your nurse manages your care alongside your physician. They also assist with procedures and treatments. Nurses are resources for you and your caregiver. They can answer questions and help with a wide range of topics, like how to cope with side effects or how to get other services you need at SCCA.