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The Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University
Chicago, Illinois
Administrative Office: 312.908.5250
Patient Referrals: 866.LURIECC (587.4322)

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Genetic Testing


The Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University offers cancer genetics services through two programs that meet on a weekly basis: the Cancer Genetics Program (CGP) and the Northwestern Ovarian Cancer Early Detection and Prevention Program (NOCEDPP). The goal of these programs is to provide a wide range of services to individuals who are concerned about the occurrence of cancer in their family. These services include cancer risk assessment, education about the genetic basis of cancer, discussions regarding the risks and benefits of genetic testing in a particular situation, recommendations for appropriate cancer screening and prevention, and information about opportunities for participation in research studies. The CGP is staffed by one oncologist, two geneticists, and three board-certified genetic counselors, and the NOCEDPP is staffed by two geneticists, and two board-certified genetic counselors. They both work closely with Northwestern's surgical, medical, radiation, and gynecologic oncologists, internists, nurses, and psychologists to provide comprehensive cancer genetic services. In addition to cancer genetic services, the NOCEDPP provides ovarian cancer screening to women at increased risk for ovarian cancer. The NOCEDPP is a research program that is dedicated to developing tests that will be effective in the detection of early stage ovarian cancer.


Chicago, Illinois

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Cancer Genetics Program (CGP)

Northwestern Ovarian Cancer Early Detection and Prevention Program (NOCEDPP)

The Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University provides a full range of genetic counseling, testing, screening, and research. The following sets out the components of the comprehensive genetic testing program.

Intake Process

Physician and Community Awareness

The genetics staff gives numerous educational talks each year to a wide range of audiences about the recent discoveries in cancer genetics and the process of genetic counseling and genetic testing. Presentations are given at various departmental meetings throughout Northwestern, grand rounds at several community hospitals, meetings of community-based cancer support groups and organizations, and local nursing conferences.

Identify Eligible Clients/Referral

Specialists in the Lynn Sage Comprehensive Breast Center and other such clinics refer patients when indicated to the CGP and NOCEDPP. In addition, both academically based physicians at Northwestern and private practitioners in oncology, surgery, and obstetrics and gynecology on staff at Northwestern have been contacted either directly or indirectly. When possible, a genetic counselor attends the weekly multi-disciplinary breast, gynecologic, and colon cancer conferences to identify patients that may be appropriate for genetic counseling based on their clinical and family history. Patients are also accepted on self-referral or as referrals from community physicians.

Pre-test Counseling

The CGP and NOCEDPP routinely provide genetic counseling services to both individuals and their family members. These services are available on a weekly basis.

All individuals undergoing cancer risk assessment and genetic counseling through the Cancer Genetics Program are contacted by the genetic counselor by telephone prior to a formal appointment. The genetic counselor elicits the client's questions and concerns and provides an overview of the genetic counseling and testing process, including number of appointments, cost, possibility of insurance coverage, and confidentiality of information. Clients are encouraged to gather medical records documenting the occurrences of cancer in their family for accurate risk assessment, or at least confer with relatives to obtain details about cancer diagnoses. Information about reproductive history, environmental exposures, and medical history relevant to cancer risk is also gathered over the telephone. A preliminary pedigree is constructed based on telephone intake information and preliminary cancer risk assessment is performed.

The initial genetic counseling appointment involves reviewing the family history and the client's personal history, discussing the client's cancer risk assessment, providing general education about the genetic basis of cancer and particular cancer susceptibility genes as appropriate for the family history, discussing options and recommendations for cancer surveillance and prevention, and exploring the psychosocial implications of a personal or family history of cancer. For clients with family histories that are suggestive of inherited susceptibility, pre-test counseling is provided focusing on the benefits, risks, and limitations of genetic testing in their particular situation.

A genetics consultation as described above is also a standard component of the NOCEDPP.  The NOCEDPP is a research protocol and screening program available to women at increased risk for ovarian cancer (i.e. family history of ovarian cancer; strong family history of ovarian, colon, uterine, or pancreatic cancer; personal or family history of hereditary syndrome that predisposes to ovarian cancer).  NOCEDPP research participants undergo semiannual ovarian cancer screening with transvaginal ultrasound and CA-125.  A genetic risk assessment is routinely performed at their initial visit. 

Components of pre-test counseling include the following items, as suggested by the American Society of Clinical Oncology:

  • implications of a positive or negative test result
  • possibility that the test will be uninformative
  • options and limitations of medical surveillance and prevention following testing
  • options for risk assessment without genetic testing
    risk to family members
  • accuracy of test
  • fees involved in counseling and testing
  • discussion of psychosocial consequences of test results
  • risks of insurance and/or employer discrimination
  • confidentiality of test results

Informed Consent Procedures

Written informed consent is obtained from each client who elects genetic testing. For clients having genetic testing on a clinical basis, the consent form of the commercial CLIA-approved laboratory providing the specific test is used. For patients participating in research studies, consent forms are reviewed and approved by the Northwestern University IRB. Information included in the consent forms is covered in detail during pre-test genetic counseling. After reading the consent form, patients are specifically asked by the genetic counselor if they have any remaining questions or concerns.


Confidentiality Standards

Medical and family history information obtained through both the CGP and the NOCEDPP is part of the patient's electronic medical record. Currently , these electronic encounters are restricted and accessible only by providers affiliated with either the CGP or the NOCEDPP, respectively. CGP and NOCEDPP records may be released to other providers with permission from the client.


For genetic testing for breast, ovarian, colon, and other hereditary forms of cancer, established laboratories with recognized expertise in the specific test are utilized.

These services are used on an individual basis, focused on the specific gene test and the specific expertise of the testing facility.

Available Testing Through Northwestern / Cancer Center

Below is an abbreviated list of the tests that are available; we offer genetic counseling and testing for other conditions as indicated.

Cancer/Syndrome Gene
Breast & Ovarian Cancer BRCA1 & BRCA2
Familial Adenomatous Polyposis Colon Cancer APC
Hereditary non-Polyposis Colon Cancer MSH2, MLH1, MSH6, PMS2, EPCAM
Li-Fraumeni Syndrome TP53
Melanoma p16 (CDKN2A)
Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia 1 MEN1
Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia 2 RET
Retinoblastoma RB1
von Hippel-Lindau VHL

Laboratory Quality Assurance

Only CAP- and CLIA-approved laboratories are used for clinical genetic testing.

Test Result Interpretation

All genetic test results are interpreted by the genetic counselor in light of the client's personal and family histories. Published literature, in combination with the client's own medical history, is used in assessing cancer risks for each client in light of positive or negative test results. Internationally available resources, such as mutation databases for specific cancer susceptibility genes, are utilized in interpreting some results.

Post-Test Counseling and Follow-Up

Post-test Counseling

Interpretation and communication of genetic test results is most often provided by phone. However, should patients request a face-to-face disclosure or further discussion of their results in person, this is easily accommodated. Detailed written summaries of the genetic counseling session are sent to each client. To ensure patient confidentiality, each client chooses if he or she wants the written summary sent to his or her physician(s). Patients who are not appropriate for or who do not elect genetic testing are encouraged to periodically contact the cancer genetics staff for updates on information that may apply to their family. For patients electing genetic testing, a written summary of the counseling sessions, test results, and meaning of the results for the client and his/her family is provided.

Cancer Screening

Cancer screening recommendations are provided based on the personal and family histories, results of genetic testing and nationally accepted guidelines for the treatment of at-risk individuals (NCCN, etc.). Referrals are coordinated when necessary.

Clients are informed that many of the screening recommendations for carriers of mutations in cancer susceptibility genes are currently based on expert opinion and may change as new information is gained through research. Clients are informed of the availability of clinical research studies on screening that may be appropriate for their situation.

Medical and Surgical Management

Options for cancer prevention such as prophylactic surgeries or use of chemopreventive agents are discussed with clients who have tested positive for a cancer susceptibility mutation or whose risk assessment without genetic testing suggests a significantly increased cancer risk. Clients considering prophylactic surgeries or chemoprevention are referred for a formal consultation with a surgical oncologist or medical oncologist, respectively, to discuss the benefits and risks of these options in more detail.

Psychological and Supportive Services

Individuals who appear to require additional supportive counseling before or after receiving genetic test results are provided with a referral to a clinical psychologist, psycho-oncologist, psychiatrist, or social worker, when necessary.  Information about support communities is routinely provided for individuals both with and without a family history consistent with hereditary cancer.


The Cancer Center makes participation in research studies available to patients and families who meet the criteria for studies performed at Northwestern or at institutions across the country.

Identifying New Genes

Northwestern is participating in ECOG's "Cancer in Siblings" research protocol, which aims to identify genetic characteristics shared by siblings who have been diagnosed with the same cancer. Sibling pairs who have been diagnosed with breast, colon, lung, or prostate cancer are eligible for participation.

Families identified through the CGP and NOCEDPP who have unique constellations of cancer that are of interest to research groups at other institutions are made aware of opportunities for study participation. Families can often participate in off-site research studies by talking with the study coordinator over the telephone, completing a written packet of questionnaires and providing informed consent, and then providing a blood sample.

Please note: Preliminary research studies such as these aimed at identifying new genes may not provide results back to study participants. Research test results may not impact clinical management for participants.

Improving New Counseling Methods

Northwestern's graduate students in genetic counseling are responsible for conducting an original research project to fulfill requirements for the master of science degree. Typically, two to three projects each year focus on cancer genetic counseling issues.

Improving Testing Methods

The focus of the Northwestern Ovarian Cancer Early Detection and Prevention Program is to identify clinical and laboratory parameters useful in identifying ovarian cancer early in its initiation. Detailed family histories have been obtained and will be analyzed as part of the overall goal of early identification of ovarian cancer.

Other Components of Genetic Services

Quality Assurance

Each patient's history and genetic counseling session, risk assessment and patient's choice of testing is reviewed with either a medical oncologist or geneticist. When necessary, difficult cases are reviewed (anonymously) with cancer genetics colleagues through the National Society of Genetic Counselor Cancer Special Interest Group e-mail discussion group.


Northwestern University offers a graduate program in Genetic Counseling. This program accepts twelve students per year and provides extensive clinical experience. The program is accredited by the American Board of Genetic Counseling.

Northwestern also offers basic science doctoral programs at its Chicago campus, where students are trained in the labs of Cancer Center researchers. Post-doctoral opportunities are also available in the cancer center for basic science research related to cancer genetics.

The Cancer Genetics Program is initiating a M3 Clerkship for students of the Feinberg School of Medicine. In addition, residents and fellows of Northwestern Memorial Hospital rotate through our clinics to build upon their knowledge of the cancer risk assessment process.