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Ask the cancer genetics team: when to test children

Q: When should I test my child for a genetic cancer syndrome that I have or that runs in my family?

A: The general belief is that it makes sense to offer genetic testing to children in families with hereditary cancer syndromes when there are health issues that pertain to children and there are medical management options available to help detect, prevent, or treat these issues.

  • There are some hereditary cancer syndromes that are known to cause an increased risk for cancer or other health concerns in children. If this is true of the syndrome in your family, then it is worth discussing the benefits and drawbacks of testing your child with your genetic counselor. Testing your child might help his or her doctor determine what health conditions your child is at risk for and what kinds of tests and medical follow-up is needed. However, it can be emotionally and psychologically difficult to learn that your child is at risk for cancer or other health issues. On the other hand, you may feel a great sense of relief in learning that your child did not inherit the familial mutation. Some children are too young to make a decision about testing, whereas others are mature enough to participate in this process.
  • Many hereditary cancer predisposition syndromes are associated only with cancer and health concerns in adults. If this is true for the syndrome in your family, we would not recommend genetic testing your child. When your child is approaching the age when the results of his or her genetic testing could impact his or her medical care, your child may wish to consider testing. There are many different benefits and drawbacks to consider when thinking about genetic testing for hereditary cancer syndromes in children. It is very important to discuss these issues in detail with a genetic counselor who can help you work through them and provide you with resources and support.

JCO, Vol. 21, Issue 12 (June 15), 2003: 2397-2406

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  • Center for Cancer Genetics and Prevention

  • Ask the Cancer Genetics Team

    • Do you have questions about genetic testing or are you wondering if you or someone in your family is at greater risk of developing cancer? Our cancer genetics team can help answer your questions.