Cancer Risk Evaluation Program


You are probably familiar with at least some of the risk factors for cancer such as family history, age and reproductive history. You also may have heard about the discovery of certain genes that contribute to cancer risk. But how do these factors add up for you? 

Designed for people who want information about their risk, clinicians and researchers within this program help people with cancer and individuals who may be at an increased risk for certain types of cancer such as:

  • Breast cancer
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Gastrointestinal cancers
  • Sarcoma

Our program can also: 

  • Help you understand what is known about risk factors for cancer.
  • Answer questions and talk with you about your personal cancer related concerns.
  • Help guide surgical decisions for newly diagnosed cancer patients.
  • Review your family history, medical history and lifestyle risk factors.
  • Talk to you about genetic testing and assist in making a decision about this option, when appropriate.
  • Provide a written summary of your level of risk.
  • Outline a plan for continued monitoring for early detection and personal risk reduction.
  • Evaluate your eligibility to participate in research studies.
  • Provide information for individuals who have been diagnosed with cancer and are interested in learning about the role of genetics in their diagnoses.
  • Provides genetic counseling services.
  • Provide education and support programs for individuals at high risk for cancer.

What Sets Penn’s Cancer Risk Evaluation Program Apart?

The Cancer Risk Evaluation Program is a multi-specialty program that provides:

  • A patient-centered approach, ensuring you and your loved ones receive the medical care and emotional support you need.
  • An interdisciplinary team approach, whereby all your physicians, nurses, genetic counselors, and other health care professionals work closely together to optimize your care.
  • Weekly clinician conferences led by our nationally recognized experts in cancer and genetics to discuss patient care and clinical management.
  • An opportunity to participate in support group/educational programs exclusively for women at high risk for cancer, often due to a strong family history.
  • Communication with your referring physician, including a detailed cancer risk management plan developed specifically for you.

Assessing Your Risk for Hereditary Cancer

Sometimes, we see a specific pattern of cancer in the family called a cancer syndrome. A cancer syndrome refers to a cluster of specific cancers that occurs more often than expected in a particular family.

To determine if a family may have a hereditary cancer syndrome, a detailed family history of cancer needs to be collected and organized. With this information, an assessment can be performed to determine the likelihood that the family has a hereditary cancer syndrome or if the family history of cancer is more likely due to chance.

Some details about personal or family history of cancer can be suggestive of a hereditary cancer syndrome, including:

  • Early onset – diagnosis at an age younger than typically seen (e.g. breast cancer in 20s, 30s and 40s)
  • Multiple primary tumors (e.g. bilateral breast cancer)
  • Multiple generations affected with the same or related cancers
  • Early onset of colon polyps, colon cancer or multiple family members with colon polyps
  • Ethnicity - (e.g. being of Ashkenazi Jewish descent and having breast or ovarian cancer)
  • Being diagnosed with rare type of cancer such as ovarian or male breast cancer
  • A constellation of tumors consistent with a specific cancer syndrome such as breast and ovarian; colon and endometrial; sarcoma, breast, brain and adrenal cortical carcinoma (ACC)

Collecting Your Family's Medical History

A family history of cancer can provide clues to your risks for cancer. Collecting your family history may help to determine if you are at an increased risk for certain cancers, and also if you are at an average – or even below average – risk for other types of cancer.

It may be helpful to let your relatives know why you are asking about their health and to explain the entire family could benefit from this information. Learning more about your relatives who have had cancer is also an important step in determining your own risk so that appropriate screening and prevention techniques can be accurately identified.

In addition, you may have an opportunity to participate in research evaluating undiscovered genetic and environmental causes of cancer.This research is working to better understand the role of genetics in cancer development. 

How Our Program Works

We will provide you with a questionnaire that helps guide you in collecting and recording your family history of cancer for both immediate and more extended relatives.

Some important questions for relatives who have had cancer include:

  • Where in the body did the cancer start?
  • Was there more than one type of cancer?
  • At what age was the cancer(s) diagnosed?
  • What type of treatment did this family member have?
  • What is the pathology, or specific type, of the cancer?

Also, learning general information about family members including causes of death, illnesses, and where your ancestors came from may be useful. 

Our genetic counselor will meet with you to discuss your personal and family history, and to determine if further genetic evaluation may be right for you.