Cancer Genetics

Clinical Services

The St. Joseph Hospital Cancer Genetics Program aims to help individuals and families with a history of cancer better understand and manage their cancer risk. The program includes providers with expertise in cancer genetic counseling, medical oncology and cancer surgery. Together, these specialists assess and develop management plans for hereditary cancer syndromes and familial occurrences of cancer by:

  • Performing a detailed cancer risk assessment with genetic counseling
  • Facilitating and interpreting genetic testing when appropriate
  • Providing individualized cancer screening and prevention plan to assist in early detection, prevention and improved cancer management.

Genetic Cancer Risk Assessment and Genetic Testing

Anyone concerned about a personal and/or family history of cancer can benefit from genetic counseling for cancer genetic risk assessment.

Especially individuals with a personal and/or family history of:

  • Cancer occurring younger than expected (typically before 50)
  • More than one type of cancer in the same person (separate primary cancers, not an original cancer spreading to other parts of the body)
  • Two or more family members with the same type of cancer
  • A rare or unusual type of cancer

How to schedule an appointment

A patient can contact the Cancer Genetics Program directly at (714) 734-6229 to schedule an appointment or be referred by their physician. A brief telephone interview is completed to review personal and family history and to answer questions about program services. We ask all new patients to complete an in-depth cancer risk questionnaire and family history form in preparation for the consultation.

Your Assessment

The initial visit (approximately one hour) includes a meeting with a licensed genetic counselor. At this time, your personal and family history is reviewed and education is provided regarding basic genetic principles and how they apply to cancer. Your detailed personal and family history is assessed to determine if genetic testing for a particular hereditary cancer syndrome is indicated.

If genetic testing is recommended, education is provided regarding the specific genetic test, the possible test results and the implications of results for both the patient and family members.

If genetic testing is not indicated, education is provided as to why not and individualized cancer screening recommendations are provided for the patient and family members based upon the cancers and risk factors present in the family.

Genetic Testing

Genetic testing involves obtaining a small blood or saliva sample, which is sent to a specialty laboratory. The specialty laboratory examines the genes to look for any "mistakes" or mutations that would cause the gene to not work properly. If certain gene mutations are found, the person may be at increased risk for certain types of cancers. Also, his or her family members may carry the gene mutation and thus be at increased risk for certain types of cancer.

Genetic testing typically takes about two – three weeks. When results are available, the patient returns to the Cancer Genetics Program for a second consultation with their genetic counselor (approximately ½ hour). During the second visit, the genetic test results and interpretation of the results are appraised and individualized screening and prevention recommendations are provided for the patient and their family members.

Reports and confidentiality

After each visit, a summary consultation report is provided to the patient and any physicians to whom the patient wants the information sent.

All personal and family information and genetic testing results are confidential and will not be released to anyone without the patient's prior written consent.

Some patients have expressed concerns that insurance companies may use genetic information against them. In fact, there are federal and state laws that provide protection against genetic discrimination and there are no documented cases of genetic discrimination following genetic counseling or testing for cancer risk. The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) of 2008 is a federal law that protects people from health insurance eligibility and cost discrimination and also protects people from employment discrimination. Our Genetic Counselors can provide more information about this during the patient consultation.

Research opportunities

Cancer genetics is a dynamic and evolving field. All patients are invited to participate in our Hereditary Cancer Research Registry. The registry is in collaboration with the City of Hope Clinical Cancer Genetics Department.

Our team also explores other research options on a case-by-case basis to identify cancer genetics research opportunities that may be beneficial. Research participation is completely voluntary and is not required to be seen by our program.