Hereditary Cancers & the Prominent Role of a Genetic Counselor | Ms. Divya Udyawar | Genetic Counselor | MOC

  • With the increasing incidence of cancers worldwide, it is predicted that by 2030, every person will know of another person suffering from cancer or would have lost someone to the disease. Talking about our country, the Indian Council for Medical Research predicted back in 2018 that India is likely to have more than 17.3 lakh new cases of cancer and over 8.8 lakh deaths due to the disease by 2020. Looking at the present-day scenario, these figures only look underestimated.

It is a very commonly asked question if cancers run in the family, though very few know the right answer to it. The painful experience of having seen a loved one go through the sufferings of the disease, often creates anxiety about one’s own risk of inheriting it.

Cancers which typically run into families and are seen through generations are termed as hereditary or familial cancers. The word 'Hereditary' refers to any characteristic or trait which is passed on from one generation to another through genes. These cancers manifest due to the faulty / abnormal genetic material which is passed from one generation to another. It is important to understand that it is not the cancer but only the altered / mutated genes (faulty genes) that can potentially lead to cancer are inherited. Hereditary cancers comprise only 5-10% of all cancers in the world. Although these figures might look insignificant, the facts suggests that the burden of hereditary or familial cancers in India is three times more in contrast to the global scenario.

The diagnosis of a hereditary cancer holds implications not only for the individuals but also for their extended family. It can be challenging to deal with it and every individual may react differently & unpredictably to such an awful revelation. Precisely here is the need for a dedicated & a trained expert to carefully apprise individuals about the genetic conditions, inherited risk of cancer and counsel on the associated complexities & implications.

A genetic counsellor is a healthcare professional specially trained to look at how diseases, including cancers that are present in a family have been passed on through the generations. On the basis of a detailed family history, a genetic counselor counsel individuals about their potential risks of inheriting a genetic condition. A definitive risk figure can then be derived by performing the genetic tests. A genetic counselor can help interpret results of the genetic test and provide an appropriate management or surveillance plan for the future. Genetic counselors are also equipped to help people deal with the psychosocial trauma following diagnosis of a genetic condition.

Seeking genetic counseling can help cancer patients & their family members envisage & evaluate the risk for occurrence of a hereditary cancer in the family. They can provide personalized management plans to individuals already affected with cancer whereas the unaffected, at-risk family members will be advised the routine surveillance plan to prevent and facilitate early detection of the cancers.

Ms. Divya Udyawar


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