Cancer Care

Genetic screening helps people with elevated cancer risk make prevention plans

Augusta’s Cancer Prevention and Genetic Risk Assessment Program helps patients understand their cancer risk—and what they can do to reduce it

If a certain type of cancer seems common in your family, you might be worried that you or your children will inherit it. That’s a very common concern, says Augusta Health Cancer Center nurse practitioner Donna Markey, RN, MSN, ACNP-CS, but there are steps you can take to manage your risk, even if cancer runs in your family.

Augusta Health’s Cancer Prevention and Genetic Risk Assessment Program arms those with a family history of cancer with education, screening, testing and health resources.

“Genetic risk is just that: a level of risk,” says Markey. “It doesn’t mean you will inevitably get cancer or that there’s nothing you can do. In fact, there are many modifiable lifestyle behaviors that can improve your chances, even when you have genetic risk factors.”

Only about 10% of cancers are hereditary, Markey says, but having a genetic link could increase your chances of getting cancer up to 10 times. For example, the average woman’s risk of breast cancer is 12%, Markey says, but if she has strong genetic connections—such as a mother or sister who had breast cancer—and a breast cancer predisposition gene, her risk rises to between 40% and 90%.

“The huge difference in risk between the general population and those with a genetic component is a driving force for patients to come to us,” says Markey. After an initial visit with a genetic counselor, the next step is often genetic testing.

Cancer risk climbs much higher if you’re overweight, use tobacco, drink more alcohol than recommended, eat mainly unhealthy foods or get little exercise. The program offers advice and resources aimed at risk reduction, such as a health coach and psychological support.

A positive test is not a guarantee of cancer down the road—rather, it should feel like a starting point for getting on a screening schedule and making the kind of lifestyle changes that will keep your risk level trending downward.

“We offer a full package of services that can help you lower your risk and get healthier,” says Markey. “Augusta is truly committed to changing the face of cancer because, in addition to caring for those who have cancer, we’re doing everything we can to prevent it.”

To find out more about genetic risk assessment and cancer screenings, call (540) 332-5960 or visit augustahealth.com/cancer-center/genetic-risk-assessment.