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Know Your Risk For Developing Hereditary Cancers

As published in the Reading Eagle on Nov. 17.
By Donna Lamp

If you have a family history of cancer and ever wondered what your risk status is, the Penn State Health St. Joseph Cancer Center’s Cancer Risk Evaluation Program (CREP) can help. It offers genetic evaluation to determine your cancer risk and provides actionable next steps.

Because 5% to 10% of cancer cases are hereditary, a CREP professional assessment is a proactive approach to your health. Our staff will provide information, evaluation, genetic counseling and, if appropriate, genetic testing to assist in developing a realistic assessment of your risk status. In addition, we work collaboratively with your physicians to review your personal and family history, create a cancer-incidence pedigree (or family tree) and offer recommendations for follow-up.

Health care professionals often refer their patients to us who may not have cancer but are at higher risk. For example, if a patient mentions that they have to keep going back for repeat colonoscopies or even breast biopsies, their physician may refer for further risk assessment. At the same time, patients who have been diagnosed with cancer often turn to us to learn more about their risk status and treatment options.

Because this is a family program, we receive many family referrals. When someone carries a mutation in a gene that puts them at higher risk of developing cancer, we know that other family members are also at increased risk for carrying that same gene mutation. This is called cascade testing because it prompts an entire family response.

Prior to your first visit, we will ask you to complete a family history form that includes three generations, listing all family members, even if they are unaffected by cancer. This includes first cousins and even that next generation of great-aunts, great-uncles and grandparents because they are recognized as close relatives. For those impacted by cancer, we have you specify age, cancer diagnosis and the type of cancer, providing as much information as you can. We are looking for certain red flags that indicate an elevated cancer risk. We also look for other cancers that may be considered rare, such as ovarian cancer or pancreatic cancer.

Our goal is to identify a reason why cancers are occurring in your family and share with you what can be done. This includes a risk management plan of ongoing care to reduce your risk of ever getting cancer or detecting it at its earliest stage. Based on the results of your initial evaluation, we might recommend that you have genetic testing to determine whether your genes put you at higher risk of getting cancer. We will give you written recommendations for reducing your cancer risk. Those may touch on diet, exercise, medications and a schedule for regular checkups and cancer screenings.

To get started, review our detailed brochure here or call 610-378-2457 to make an appointment. In response to the pandemic, we’ve implemented numerous enhanced safety measures and accommodations. Although most initial assessments are done in person, we will deliver genetic test results through our telehealth service, Penn State Health OnDemand.

Donna Lamp, an oncology nurse with experience in cancer risk assessment, is the CREP coordinator at Penn State Health St. Joseph Cancer Center. She performs comprehensive risk assessments, constructs genetic family pedigrees and offers genetic testing as indicated. Lamp has been with the program since it began as a community pilot program in 2004. She has access to a medical geneticist through the Penn State Cancer Institute Cancer Genetics Program.

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