Some people say that cancer "runs in the family." That's partly true because some cancer patients do not have a family history of the disease.
However, if a man's father, brother, or son had prostate cancer, that man is 2 to 3 times more likely to get prostate cancer.
Having family members with breast, ovarian, and pancreatic cancers may also increase a man's risk for getting prostate cancer. That's because families with breast, ovarian, pancreatic, and prostate cancers often share some of the same genes: most notably, the breast cancer gene known as BRCA.
Genes are made up of DNA. Genetic testing looks for specific inherited changes (mutations) in a person's genes and can help find out if a cancer is passed through the patient's genes. About 5 to 10 percent of all prostate cancers are believed to be family traits.
If your urologist suggests genetic testing, they may want you to see a genetic counselor.
Your urologist may also order genetic tests directly and only send you for genetic counseling if the results are positive or uncertain.
Two groups of men should consider genetic testing. The first group is men with high-grade (Gleason score ≥ 7) prostate cancer contained within the prostate who have a family history of breast, ovarian, pancreatic, or prostate cancer. The second group is men with metastatic prostate cancer that has spread to other parts of the body.
To find out if you have a genetic mutation linked to prostate cancer, you can take a simple blood or saliva test. Health insurance often covers genetic counseling and tests if they are medically needed.
Benjamin Ristau, MD, is a urologist with UConn Health in Farmington, Conn.