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Cancer Genetics

The goal of cancer genetics is to prevent cancer or, if cancer occurs, to detect it as early as possible by identifying individuals at increased risk.

Northwestern geneticists provide individualized cancer risk assessment and health management recommendations to individuals and families at increased risk for cancer due to their personal and/or family history of cancer.

Genetic Counseling and Prostate Cancer

The Department of Urology provides genetic counseling for individuals with prostate cancer or those with an increased cancer risk due to their personal and/or family history. Brittany Szymaniak, PhD, CGC, provides comprehensive risk assessment, genetic testing, and follow-up care for individuals with prostate cancer in the urology clinic.

Undergoing genetic counseling does not obligate people to genetic testing. Our genetic counselor is available to discuss the advantages, disadvantages and limitations of testing with you.

The following individuals should consider genetic testing:

  • Men with metastatic, intraductal/cribriform histology, high risk, or very-high risk prostate cancer at any age.
  • Men with prostate cancer (any risk group) at any age and Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry.

Ashley Ross, MD, PhD and Brittany Szymaniak, PhD, CGC, an expert researcher in Cancer Genetics converse about Germline genetic testing and prostate cancer.

Genetic counseling

A typical cancer genetic counseling appointment contains the following:

  • Collection of a three-generation family history of cancer.
  • A review of the categories of cancer – sporadic, familial, and hereditary.
  • A risk assessment based on the family history – an assessment of the likelihood that the history may be explained by an underlying genetic etiology, whether genetic testing is indicated based on this history, and a discussion of the hereditary syndromes.
  • Specifics of the testing – how the testing is conducted, the possible test results, the types of testing available.
  • Benefits and limitations of genetic testing.
  • Facilitation of decision-making regarding testing and coordination of genetic testing, if appropriate.

Patients are encouraged to collect as much cancer family history as possible prior to their appointment. However, it is important to note that this does not necessarily preclude the possibility of genetic testing for individuals who are adopted or have limited family history.

Genetic Testing

Genetic testing is performed by collecting a blood sample, saliva sample, or cheek swab. The sample is sent to a laboratory for analysis and results are issued in 3-4 weeks. The genetic counselor will contact the patient to review the results and their implications results are available.

EDGe BRCA+ Men’s Clinic

The EDGe (Early Detection in Genetics) BRCA+ Men’s clinic provides screening and follow-up care for men age 40 and older with identified mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.

Our team will coordinate 1-2 visits per year for patients across the following specialties:

    • Genetics: At their first enrollment visit, patients will meet with a genetic counselor to introduce the program, gather updated family history, review screening recommendations, and review the status of cascade testing in the family.
    • Urology: Prostate cancer screening
    • High-Risk Breast Center: Breast cancer screening
    • Dermatology: Skin cancer screening
    • Gastroenterology: Pancreatic screening (if indicated)

Von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) Clinic at Northwestern Memorial Hospital

VHL is a hereditary condition characterized by tumors that can occur in one or more areas of the body. Patients with VHL, as well as people with known family history of VHL, can benefit from care provided by a team that has recognized experience with this complex condition.

Because VHL disease can impact so many parts of the body, the VHL Clinic at Northwestern Memorial Hospital brings together a comprehensive team of specialists to develop individualized care plans based on patient needs. Northwestern Memorial Hospital is recognized by the VHL Alliance as a Clinical Care Center (CCC). Our multidisciplinary VHL team is committed to providing holistic, coordinated care for patients with VHL and for their families.

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