Genetics and Cancer

Most cancers occur sporadically, meaning they are thought to be related to chance, aging, or environmental factors. However, approximately 5-10% of all cancers are hereditary, meaning that they are caused by an inherited gene mutation that can run in a family.

For example, mutations (or changes) in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes cause an increased risk for breast, ovarian, prostate, and pancreatic cancers and can be passed down from either side of a family. There are many other hereditary cancer genes for which testing is now available, including CHEK2, ATM, PALB2, Lynch syndrome, and others.

Not everyone who has a personal or family history of cancer needs to have genetic testing. However, if a family has certain risk factors for a hereditary cause of cancer, genetic testing should be considered. Genetic testing is helpful in identifying family members at increased risk for cancer and can help them make a personalized plan for cancer treatment, screening, and prevention.

In general, genetic counseling and risk assessment should be considered if someone has a personal or family history of any of the following:

  • Multiple close family members with cancer, especially the same type of cancer

  • Cancer at a young age (i.e., 50 or younger)

  • Cancers that have a stronger genetic risk (such as pancreatic cancer, aggressive prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, male breast cancer or triple-negative breast cancer)

  • Multiple separate cancers in the same person

  • A finding that is linked to hereditary cancer risk (such as many colon polyps)

  • Eastern European Jewish (Ashkenazi Jewish) ancestry

  • A known gene mutation in the family (in one or more family members who had genetic testing)

Genetics is a quickly evolving field. Even if you or a family member had genetic testing in the past, you may now consider more comprehensive testing.

Piedmont Cancer Genetics Program

We offer genetic counseling for individuals and families related to possible inherited cancer risk. Piedmont’s genetics team has specialized training in genetics and interpretation of genetic test results. During your genetic counseling appointment, the genetic counselor will review your family history of cancer, provide risk assessment, discuss genetic testing options, and help you decide if testing is right for you and your family. Not everyone who has genetic counseling decides to have genetic testing. If you do proceed with genetic testing, your genetics provider will help interpret your test results and discuss the next steps for you and your family members.

Genetic testing and risk assessment can lead to proactive changes to your medical management, such as increased screening or consideration of risk-reducing options. Sometimes, genetic test results can help you and your doctors determine what treatment plans to pursue or may provide reassurance about cancer risk in the family. For more answers to frequently asked questions, visit our FAQ page.

Genetic Counseling & Testing FAQs

Refer a Patient

For Providers: To refer a patient to Piedmont’s Cancer Genetics Program, please download, complete, and send the form below.

Genetic Counseling Referral Form


Contact a Genetic Counselor

We offer genetic counseling for inherited risk for patients across Georgia and the Piedmont system. If you have a personal or family history of cancer, ask your doctor or contact our genetics team to find out if genetic testing is right for you or a family member. You can call 404-425-7300 (metro Atlanta, Columbus and north Georgia areas), 478-464-1646 (Macon area) or 706-774-4173 (Augusta area).

Genetic Counselors

  • Vanessa Crasto, MMSc

  • Mary Dugan, MS, CGC

  • Amanda Eppolito, MS, CGC

  • Brittany Hodge, MMSc, CGC

  • Jordan Hunter, MS, CGC

  • Sunaina Kapur, MMSc, CGC

  • Lani Kesterson, MS, CGC

  • Molly Klein, MS, CGC

  • Emily Martin, MS, CGC

  • Camille Miller, MS

  • Anum Siddiqui, MS, CGC

  • Aubrey Surian, MS

  • Gillian Thornton, MMSc

  • Erica Trujillo, MS, CGC


Genetics and Specific Cancers


Genetic Counseling News and Updates


Additional Genetic Counseling Resources


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