• Genetic Testing for Cancer

    While most childhood cancers are not hereditary, certain types of tumors are more likely to be associated with hereditary cancer syndromes. A genetic test can explain why a child or young adult developed cancer and can help to predict whether he/she is at risk for other cancers. Results of a genetic test for cancer can give providers and families a head start on screening, prevention and treatment and could provide important information for members of the child’s family.

    Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center offers multidisciplinary consultative care to children whose condition or family history suggests an increased risk for cancer. The proven expertise of our pediatric geneticists, genetic counselors and world-renowned pediatric oncologists makes us a leader in identifying hereditary cancer syndromes in families. Our Pediatric Cancer Risk Program accepts referrals, second opinions and consultations to provide comprehensive care for children in these families at risk for cancer and other health issues.

    Continue reading to learn more about genetic testing or visit our Pediatric Cancer Risk Program homepage to learn about our program.

    Genetic Testing Overview

    Genes play an important role in determining our health and characteristics. If genes aren't working properly, conditions such as cancer may be more likely to occur. Genetic testing looks for mistakes in the hereditary material (DNA) that make up our genes. Sometimes these mistakes involve small change in the normal sequence of DNA chemical letters that make up our genes, and other times there are larger changes in DNA such as big chunks of extra or missing genetic material.

    Genetic testing is typically done by obtaining a small blood sample and sending it off to a laboratory for analysis of a gene or genes. Alternatively, genetic testing may be performed on a saliva sample through spitting in a small container or swabbing the inside of the cheek with a soft brush. In pregnancy, genetic testing may be performed on a sample of amniotic fluid or on a small piece of the placenta called the chorionic villus. It typically takes 2-4 weeks to obtain genetic testing results.

    Genetic testing may provide useful information, including:

    • May explain why a  child had cancer
    • May influence the treatment/surgical plans for a child's cancer
    • May change a child's future medical follow-up
    • May help to determine if a child's siblings or other family members are also at risk for cancer and may impact their medical management
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