We estimate that 5-10% of virtually all forms of cancer are due to a primary hereditary etiology. However, a hereditary cancer diagnosis is often missed because the family history of cancer is given short shrift in medical practice. Hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC) certainly fits this estimate, although some studies suggest that a minimum of 2% with a range as high as 10% of the total colorectal cancer burden is due to HNPCC. Mutations in one of the four mismatch repair genes, i.e., hMSH2, hMLH1, hPMS1, and hPMS2, account for about 70% of HNPCC kindreds. Other germ-line mutations are likely to be identified to account for the remainder of HNPCC patients. By far the most common HNPCC mutations involve hMSH2 and hMLH1, with hPMS1 and hPMS2 accounting for only about 3% of such families. Prior to these molecular genetic discoveries, the genetic counselor could only provide the patient with an estimate of a 50% likelihood of manifesting HNPCC based on the counselee having one or more first-degree relatives manifesting syndrome cancers in their direct genetic lineage. Because DNA testing has become available in families with known mutations, we have provided pretest group education in the form of a family information service with intensive education about the natural history, genetic risk, surveillance, and options for management of HNPCC, as well as discussion of the potential for fear, anxiety, apprehension, and insurance or employer discrimination that might impact on this DNA testing. Following informed consent, these relatives were then counseled on a one-to-one basis. Using DNA-based genetic counseling involving hMSH2 or hMLH1, we have provided this service to four extended HNPCC kindreds. Details of this genetic counseling experience on these four kindreds will be discussed.

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