When Knowing What’s in Your Genes Could Help Save Your Life

Your genes determine your eye color and height, and they may also reveal your cancer risk. Having a family history of certain types of cancer can increase your risk of developing the disease. An estimated 5% to 10% of cancer cases are hereditary.

There is a lot of information out there about genetics and cancer risk; sifting through it can be overwhelming and confusing. But you don’t have to go it alone; the Karmanos Cancer Institute Genetic Counseling Service is available to patients throughout the Karmanos Cancer Network.

You may be a good candidate for genetic counseling if you have:

  • Several relatives with the same or related cancers.
  • A relative with more than one type of cancer.
  • A personal or family history of cancer under the age of 50.
  • A personal or family history of a rare or unusual cancer, such as male breast cancer, ovarian cancer or pancreatic cancer.

Genetic counseling is designed to help you understand the impact your family history can have on you and other family members’ cancer risk. This knowledge can be a powerful, potentially life-saving tool, helping you sort through your prevention, early detection and treatment options.

Karmanos tries to make the process as straightforward and efficient as possible. Genetic counseling appointments may last between 30-45 minutes. During the genetic counseling consultation, the genetic counselor reviews the patient’s personal and family history information to determine whether genetic testing is appropriate, provides information about hereditary cancers, and walks patients through the process of genetic testing, insurance coverage, and the implications of testing for the patient and their family.

Patients who meet with our genetic counselors in person and decide to proceed with testing will have their blood drawn during their visit.

Patients who meet with our genetic counselors virtually or by phone will be mailed a testing kit. From there, they follow the enclosed instructions and send the saliva testing sample back to the lab with the provided label.

Depending on the patient’s results, the genetic counselor will give recommendations to help reduce the risk of developing cancer and help detect cancer at its earliest, most treatable stage. Some suggestions may include certain types of cancer screening, a possible change in the rate or age at which the patient should receive certain cancer screenings, risk-reducing surgeries, certain medications, suggested eating habits, and exercise.

Whether or not you opt for genetic testing, visiting with one of our genetic counselors will arm you with valuable information about your cancer risk that could save your life.

Though genetic counseling does not require a physician referral, some insurance companies may require that patients are referred. Our genetic counseling services are often covered like any other specialty. Most insurance companies cover part, if not all, of genetic testing.

For more information on the Cancer Genetic Counseling Service, visit karmanos.org/genetics or contact the Karmanos cancer center near you.


The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 is a federal law that protects people from discrimination based on genetic information when it comes to health insurance and employment. There are also state laws that do the same. A genetic counselor can address any concerns regarding genetic discrimination during a genetic counseling appointment.