Hereditary Cancer and Genetic Testing

Genetic testing for people who have never been diagnosed with cancer

Experts recommend that people with any of the following family history should speak to a genetics expert about genetic testing:

A relative who has tested positive for an inherited mutation in a gene that increases cancer risk.


One or more first- or second-degree relatives with breast cancer and any of the following:

  • diagnosed at age 45 or younger
  • triple-negative breast cancer
  • two separate breast cancers, with the first diagnosis at age 50 or younger
  • male breast cancer


One or more first- or second-degree relatives with:

  • colorectal cancer before age 50
  • endometrial cancer before age 50
  • ovarian, fallopian tube, primary peritoneal cancer
  • rare or childhood cancers


One or more first-degree relatives with:

  • metastatic or high-grade prostate cancer
  • pancreatic cancer


 Two or more relatives on the same side of the family diagnosed with any combination of the following at any age:

  • breast cancer
  • pancreatic cancer
  • prostate cancer
  • melanoma
  • sarcoma
  • adrenal cancer
  • brain tumors
  • leukemia
  • endometrial cancer
  • thyroid cancer
  • kidney cancer
  • diffuse gastric cancer
  • colon cancer


You are of Eastern European Jewish ancestry and have any relatives with breast, ovarian or pancreatic cancer at any age.

Other people who may benefit from genetic counseling and testing

  • People of Eastern European Jewish ancestryeven those without any family history of cancermay wish to speak with a genetic counselor about testing.
  • You may benefit from genetic counseling if you have had more than 10 colon polyps.
  • You may also benefit from additional genetic counseling and expanded genetic testing if you had genetic testing in the past, you tested negative, and all of the following apply:
    • you have a family history of cancer that matches any of the situations listed above.
    • your genetic test only looked at one, or a few genes.
    • none of your relatives have tested positive for an inherited gene mutation.

See our section Testing Guidelines by Cancer Type for additional guideline information. 

This is not a complete list of hereditary cancers. A genetics expert can help you learn if the cancer in your family is hereditary. 


Healthcare providers who are specially trained in genetics can help people diagnosed with cancer learn if they have an inherited mutation that increases their risk for cancer. There are several ways to find a genetics expert:

  • The National Society of Genetic Counselor website offers a searchable directory for finding a genetic counselor by state and specialty. To find a genetic counselor who specializes in cancer genetics, choose "cancer" under the options "Area of Practice/Specialization." 
  • InformedDNA is a network of board-certified genetic counselors providing this service by telephone. They can also help you find a qualified expert in your area for face-to-face genetic counseling if that is your preference. 
  • Grey Genetics provides access to genetic counselors who offer genetic counseling by telephone. 
  • The Genetic Support Foundation offers genetic counseling with board-certified genetic counselors. 
  • FORCE's toll-free helpline at: 866-288-RISK, ext. 704, can connect you with a volunteer board-certified genetic counselor who can answer general questions about genetic testing and hereditary cancer and help you find a genetic counselor near you. 
  • FORCE Peer Navigator Program will match you with a volunteer who has undergone genetic counseling and can help you navigate resources to find a genetic counselor near you.
  • Ask your doctor for a referral to a genetics expert. 



If you are considering genetic testing, you can find peer support through the following resources:


The majority of public and private health insurance plans cover genetic counseling, and if appropriate, genetic testing for people who have specific personal and/or family histories of cancer. Copays, coinsurance and deductibles may apply. Visit our section on Insurance and Paying for Genetic Counseling and Testing for more information.  

Some laboratories have assistance programs that help cover the cost for genetic testing for an inherited mutation: 

Last updated August 31, 2021