William C. Bernstein, MD Familial Cancer Registry

Hereditary, environmental, and chance events all can play a role in the development of cancer. In most cases of cancer, heredity is not the primary cause of the cancer. However, in some families, hereditary risk factors strongly increase cancer risk. This is known as "hereditary" cancer. In other families, hereditary factors influence the risk of cancer to a smaller degree and this is known as "familial" cancer.

The William C. Bernstein, MD Familial Cancer Registry enrolls individuals with cancer in order to identify those families at greater risk for familial or hereditary cancers. The goal of the registry is to reduce the risk of cancer for these families by education and research pursuits.

If you have an increased risk of cancer because of your family history, you can take action to lower your risk of developing or dying from cancer.

Registry Program Information


Risk due to family history depends on the pattern of cancers that have occurred in the family and can range from a lifetime risk of 10% to a lifetime risk of over 80%. Signs of inherited cancer risk include:

  1. Family history. Often several people in the family have had the same or related cancers.
  2. Early age at diagnosis. Cancer that occurs at an earlier than average age are more likely to be due to inherited cancer risk.
  3. Multiple primaries. When someone has had cancer more than once, either the same kind of cancer or different kinds of cancer, or when someone has had multiple colorectal polyps, there may be an inherited risk.
  4. Multiple generations affected. The cancer seems to be "passed" from one generation to another although generations may be skipped.

family history risk assessment can help determine how these signs of hereditary risk affect your recommendations, and whether a genetic evaluation may help you better protect your health.


Know your family history. Family history affects risk. Risk affects screening.

STEP 1: Collect your family history information. Make a list.

Who in your family history has had cancer?
       What is their relationship to you? (parent, aunt, grandparent, etc)
       Which side of the family? (mother's side or father's side)

What type of cancer did they have? (where in the body did the cancer start)

How old were they when they got the cancer? (age at diagnosis)

STEP 2: Ask for a family history risk assessment.

Talk to your doctor about how your family history affects your cancer risk.
Consider meeting with a genetics counselor about familiar cancer risks and genetic testing options. For an appointment at the University of Minnesota Familial Cancer Clinic, call 612-625-2134 or 612-625-5411.

Who benefits from a family history risk assessment?

You and your family may benefit. A family risk assessment will help you determine whether anyone in your family needs to begin cancer screening earlier.

Screening is different when there is a family history of cancer. Following the correct screening recommendations prevents cancer and saves lives.

People with a family history may need to:

  • Begin screening earlier than usual
  • Use different cancer screening methods
  • More frequent screening
  • Treatment options may exist

Make a Gift

To support the Registry, you can contribute online through the Minnesota Medical Foundation Web site, or call 612-625-1440 or 800-922-1663.