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Cancer Institute

Cancer Genetics

Our Genetics Program provides hereditary cancer risk assessment, education and research opportunities for individuals and families who are concerned about their hereditary risk for cancer. The program consists of physicians and counselors who are specially trained in cancer genetics and certified by the American Board of Genetic Counseling. These services are also offered at the Richard Laube Cancer Center,  Sharon Regional and Canonsburg Hospital monthly.

While the majority of cancer is spontaneous without apparent family patterns, 5 to 10 percent of cancers may be attributed to hereditary factors. People with genetically linked cancers have altered cancer-associated genes that may be passed to future generations. Because they are altered from birth, these genes have the potential to mutate early in life, triggering the development of cancer at younger-than-average ages.

Genetic counselors conduct in-depth interviews that review family medical history in detail. We discuss the options for prevention and early detection of cancer, and we offer genetic testing if needed.

Counseling sessions are covered by health insurance, and genetic testing is covered on a case-by-case basis which is investigated by the genetic counselor after the session.

Genetic testing can yield critical information that helps us determine the strength of patients' hereditary factors and the risk that they, or their children, may develop cancer. Some indicators of a hereditary predisposition to cancer are:

  • Early-onset cancer in patient or relative, such as breast, ovarian, or colon cancer before the age of 50
  • Patient has first-degree relatives (parents, siblings, or children) with cancer
  • Patient has two or more relatives with the same or related cancers
  • Primary cancers in bilateral organs (ex. breast, ovaries, kidneys, or adrenal glands) in the family
  • Two different primary cancers in the patient or a relative, such as colon and uterine cancers
  • Rare cancer type in the patient or a relative, such as medullary thyroid cancer, sarcoma, or male breast cancer
  • Inherited syndromes that predispose toward cancer in a family, such as multiple intestinal polyposis or Cowden disease
  • Lifestyle habits that may contribute to, or exacerbate, the development of cancer, including smoking, alcohol consumption or obesity
  • Environmental factors that also may contribute to, or exacerbate, the development of cancer
  • DNA/molecular analysis that reveals the presence of genes that are known to be associated with increased cancer risk due to a hereditary susceptibility (a known cancer-predisposition in the family)

Cancers associated with heredity include:

  • Breast and ovarian cancers
  • Colon, uterine, ovarian and stomach cancers
  • Colon polyps (more than 10) and colon cancer
  • Endocrine tumors (thyroid, pituitary, pancreas, adrenal gland)
  • Breast, brain, leukemia, bone and/or muscle cancers
  • Breast, thyroid, and uterine cancers
  • Kidney, adrenal gland and retinal tumors
  • Retinoblastoma
  • Familial melanoma

Talk with your family members about who has had cancer, where the cancer began in the body and what age the relative was when diagnosed and/or complete a family history questionnaire and share it with a genetic counselor.

For more information about the Cancer Genetics Program or to schedule an appointment, please call 412.359.8064.

Lawrence Wickerham, MD
Chief, Section of Cancer Genetics and Prevention

Saima Sharif, MD
Medical Oncologist

Megan Marshall, MS, CGC
Certified Genetic Counselor

Emily James, MS, CGC
Certified Genetic Counselor

Learn more about Cancer Genetics in our Health Library.

Cancer Genetics Specialists

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