Understanding Your Cancer Risk

Why prevention and early detection matter.

No one likes to think about cancer. But learning the genetic risk factors that increase your chances of getting cancer could be lifesaving. We’re here to help you understand your risk and explore ways to prevent cancer or detect it early when it’s easiest to treat.

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What is genetic counseling?

Genetic counselors are part of our collaborative cancer team. If you are at a high risk of developing cancer, Novant Health genetic counselors will develop an individualized plan to help you prevent cancer or catch it in its earliest stages.

If you are referred to genetic counseling by your physician, you will meet with a genetic counselor prior to any testing. During a session, the genetic counselor may ask you questions about your family history and discuss the option of genetic testing.

What happens during genetic testing?

Genetic testing involves looking for specific changes, or mutations, in your genes that could increase your risk to develop cancer. These genetic mutations are often inherited from a parent and can be passed down through the family. To check for an inherited gene, you may need to provide a blood or saliva sample.

How does genetic testing help you?

Finding out you may be at risk for developing cancer due to your genes can be helpful for you and your family to access increased cancer screening and prevention. The Novant Health Risk Counseling & Genetic Counseling Clinics will share strategies to reduce your lifetime risk or help with early detection of cancer.

Are you a candidate for genetic testing?

Genetic testing isn’t recommended for everyone, however, if you have one or more of the following, our counselors may recommend it:

    • Personal or family history of cancer diagnosed at a young age (such as breast, uterine or colon cancer under the age of 50)
    • Personal or family history of more than one cancer
    • Personal or family history of rare cancer (such as ovarian, pancreatic, male breast or metastatic prostate cancer)
    • Personal or family history of more than 10 colon polyps
    • Multiple people on the same side of your family diagnosed with cancer
    • Personal or family history of cancer and Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry
    • Personal or family history of gene mutation associated with an increased cancer risk (BRCA1, BRCA2)

The importance of cancer screenings

Because cancer is most treatable when caught early, our healthcare providers recommend screenings for certain types of cancers at specific ages. Talk to your primary care provider to find out what age is best for you to begin screenings and how often you should plan to get them. Our cancer screenings include:

    • Colonoscopy
    • Lung cancer screening
    • 3D mammography
    • Pap test

Reach out to your Novant Health primary provider to ask about cancer screenings, genetic testing and counseling.

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Request a video visit.

If you’re an existing Novant Health patient with a MyChart account, you can get help from our genetic counselors — even if you don’t live near one — through our online video visits. During your online appointment, if you learn that you're a candidate for genetic testing, we'll conveniently arrange for the tests and blood work to be done at your home.