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Understanding Your Cancer Risk

With so much cancer information now available, it can be overwhelming, but determining your hereditary cancer risk can be even harder to understand. Put simply, all cancers are genetic, meaning that they are based in your genetic makeup or unique genetic code, called your DNA. But not all cancers are hereditary - most are actually not inherited. We now know that specific cancers are more affected by genetics, including:

Because cancer is a common disease, most people have someone within their family that has experienced cancer. With a family history of any of these cancers, your DNA may have some of the genes or cells that could lead to cancer. In some cases, cancers within families can be caused by an abnormal gene, called a gene defect or mutation, that is inherited, but that is only the case in about 5% to 10% of cancers.

With increased knowledge of how specific genes can lead to cancer, especially with age, a more proactive approach to screenings and assessments can detect cancer earlier when treatments are generally more successful.

Family Cancer Syndromes

Through research and advancements in identifying the genes that have a greater chance of leading to cancer, we now know that some families have inherited cancer syndromes. By identifying if a family member has these genes through a cancer genetic risk assessment, a more proactive approach to healthcare and cancer risk can be taken. The Cancer Institute at Gwinnett Medical Center can help determine any of these family cancer syndromes:

  • Hereditary Breast and Ovarian (HBOC) syndrome, including BRACA1 or BRCA2 genes
  • Lynch Syndrome, also called hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC)
  • Li-Fraumeni syndrome

Expertise in Advanced Genetics

With the most advanced doctorate degree in the field of nursing, Dr. Cindy Snyder, DNP, APNG, FNP-C, leads our Cancer Genetics and Risk Assessment Program. Dr. Snyder is board certified as a Family Nurse Practitioner through the American Association of Nurse Practitioners and is the Nurse Practitioner/Advanced Practice Nurse in Genetics in the Cancer Genetics and Risk Assessment Program at the Cancer Institute at Gwinnett Medical Center. She specializes in cancer risk assessment/high risk management and testing for hereditary cancer syndromes with a focus on hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome and Lynch Syndrome.

She also completed an intensive course in cancer risk assessment at the City of Hope National Medical Center’s Department of Clinical Cancer Genetics. Among the highest credentialed and most experienced in cancer genetics in the state of Georgia, Dr. Snyder serves our patients to increase their understanding of the genetic risks of cancer and plan more proactively to address inherited cancer syndromes.

Cancer Genetic Risk Assessment

Especially with breast, ovarian, colorectal or endometrial cancer, if you have a personal or strong family history of any of these cancers, particularly if cancer was diagnosed before the age of 50, you may be at increased risk. Genetic testing through our Cancer Genetic Risk Assessment can be used to determine if someone has a genetic predisposition to cancer. At the Cancer Institute at Gwinnett Medical Center, our goal is to find cancer sooner so we can begin treatment right away for improved outcomes. Our Cancer Genetics and Risk Assessment Program is led by Dr. Cindy Snyder, DNP, APNG, FNP-C, credentialed with the experience and expertise needed for a comprehensive genetic risk assessment which may include:

  • Genetic counseling
  • In-depth consultation to determine personal and family history
  • Physical exam to determine any physical characteristics that may indicate cancer
  • Assessment of cancer risk
  • Develop plans to reduce risk
  • Education about cancer risks and prevention

High Risk Clinic Available

Those who are found to be at high risk for developing breast cancer can utilize services provided by our High Risk Clinic specialists. The clinic specializes in developing an individualized plan for prevention and early detection of cancer. This may include screening guidance and increased surveillance monitoring based on our expertise in cancer genetics and risk assessments. For example, with the increased risk of breast cancer, we may add breast MRI for annual or semi-annual screenings instead of mammogram screenings.

Everyone Should Be Aware of Cancer Red Flags

While genetics are not within our control, many cancer risk factors can be affected by our lifestyle choices. By maintaining a healthy weight, eating a nutritionally balanced diet, exercising, eliminating smoking and limiting alcohol, you can reduce your risk of cancer. Also, being aware of any changes in your body and seeking help can lead to earlier treatment of any healthcare issue. If you have any of these warning signs of cancer, see your healthcare professional right away. An increased awareness of cancer’s red flags, along with proper screenings and assessments, can save lives. Watch for these signs of cancer:

  • Change in the appearance of a mole
  • Changing bladder or bowel habits
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Discovery of a lump or mass
  • Persistent cough
  • Sores that do not heal
  • Unexplained bleeding
  • Unusual or persistent pain
  • Unusual weight loss


For More Information about our Hereditary Cancer & Risk Assessment Program

If you have questions about our Hereditary Cancer & Risk Assessment Program at the Cancer Institute at Gwinnett Medical Center, call 678-312-3235 to speak with our cancer genetics specialist. We’re happy to provide helpful information about our range of services.