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Genetic Testing for Hereditary Cancer

Learn about genes and cancer, signs of hereditary cancer, genetic counseling, types of genetic tests and what results mean for you and your family.

Positive genetic test results

A positive test result means that an inherited gene mutation was found in one of the genes associated with cancer risk. Individual risk depends on which gene has the mutation, gender, age, family history of cancer and other factors. 

A woman who tests positive for a mutation linked with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer has an increased lifetime risk for these cancer and other cancers compared to women in the general population. Even with a gene mutation, a woman's risk for cancer is not 100%; it is possible to have a genetic mutation associated with increased cancer risk and never develop cancer. 

A positive genetic test may affect treatment options for women diagnosed with cancer, and can affect screening, and risk-reduction options for women who have not had cancer. It is important to have a health care team that is experienced in managing hereditary cancer risk.  For more information visit our section on risk management options.

A man who tests positive for a gene mutation may be at higher risk for male breast cancer, prostate cancer, and other cancers compared to men in the general population. However, it is possible for a man to have a mutation associated with increased cancer risk and never develop cancer. It is important for a man who tests positive for a mutation to have a health care team that is experienced in monitoring men with mutations associated with hereditary cancer.

A positive test in either a man or woman means that other relatives may also have inherited the same mutation. Gene mutations associated with hereditary cancer can be passed on from the father or mother to sons or daughters. There is a 50% chance that a parent will pass on a mutation to each of their children. It is important to discuss with a specialist in cancer genetics who in the family may be at risk, and who should be informed of genetic test results. For more information visit our page on sharing family medical information.

People with mutations may be eligible for research studies to help prevent, detect, or treat hereditary cancer. For more information visit our page on research studies.

Updated 01/06/2018

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