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Familial Cancer Clinic

Kenan Onel, MD, PhD, director of the Familial Cancer Clinic, talks about how the clinic helps families assess cancer risk and develop personalized action plans to reduce risk for cancer.

The Pediatric Familial Cancer Clinic at the University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children's Hospital is dedicated to helping children and their families who may be at an increased risk of cancer.

Not only do we see families with known rare pediatric cancer syndromes, but we also see families with unknown or unidentified syndromes and families with questions about cancer risk.

You and your family may benefit from our clinic if:

  • You and a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, or child) have cancer
  • You and two second-degree relatives (half-sibling, uncle, aunt, niece, nephew, or grandparent) have cancer
  • You have more than one child who has cancer

Risk Assessment

Kenan Onel and patient with his mother Dr. Onel meets with a young patient and his mother.

Cancer results from a combination of both genetic and environmental risk factors. In some families, the genetic risk factors may be increased. So, members of these families may be predisposed to develop cancer. Our experts will help determine your risk--and your child's risk--of cancer. We have a dedicated team of physicians, nurses, and genetic counselors who will perform a thorough evaluation. During your initial visit, we will take a detailed family profile, and in some cases perform blood tests. If appropriate, we will offer genetic testing to you and your family.

Working with prenatal counselors, we also offer counseling to potential parents who are worried about future cancer risk in their children.

Risk Reduction

If you, your child, or other members of your family are found to be at risk for cancer, we will develop a personalized plan to reduce that risk. Components of these individualized plans may include:

  • Recommendations for changes in lifestyle, such as diet, exercise, and other factors
  • State-of-the-art cancer prevention drugs
  • Leading edge medical technologies that can detect cancer even at its earliest--and most curable--stage
  • The opportunity to participate in the very latest and most sophisticated clinical trials to prevent and detect cancer
  • Monitoring and periodic screening tests for early detection
  • Enrolling in ongoing studies that will evaluate effectiveness of monitoring techniques
  • Education about cancer risk reduction methods and health monitoring
  • Psychological counseling, as needed
  • Genetic testing, when appropriate

Expert, Coordinated Care

Marc Myers For Marc Myers, a history of cancer complicated decisions regarding his care. Marc's family turned to the Familial Cancer Clinic to assess the risks. »Read Marc's Story

Because familial cancer syndromes are extremely rare, it is critical to have a physician who is an expert in these cancers. Kenan Onel, MD, PhD, the director of our clinic, has years of experience in treating and researching rare pediatric cancers. Dr. Onel and his staff will coordinate your child's care, including care with other specialists throughout the hospital.

At Comer Children's, we take a multidisciplinary approach to cancer care. Because people with familial cancer syndromes may have other diseases and conditions (such as endocrine disorders and immune defects), this comprehensive approach is crucial. Our clinic routinely works with experts in pediatric endocrinology, pediatric rheumatology, human genetics, and child and adolescent psychiatry.

Emotional Support

We understand how scary--and frustrating--it is to have cancer in your family. That's why our care is centered around care for your whole family. We offer a variety of support services--including psychiatrists and social workers who specialize in helping children deal with the stress of cancer.

Our staff realizes that with this diagnosis there is often a rush of complicated emotions. Sometimes, adult family members may feel helpless or guilty at the thought of having passed on this genetic burden to their children. We can also refer these adults to various counseling services that can help them work through their feelings.


We pride ourselves in the fact that our research is tied directly to patient care. Here, the physician treating your child is the same physician making breakthroughs in identifying cancer susceptibility and new pediatric cancer syndromes.

VHL Clinic

As well as his clinical work, Dr. Onel runs a research program to study the genetic basis of cancer. He and his dedicated team of scientists study how normal, or germline, genetic variation among all of us contributes to cancer risk. The goal of this research is to discover the critical genetic factors that help to promote or prevent the development of cancer. Ultimately, these may be very powerful but very simple blood tests by which a doctor can help a patient assess his or her risk of cancer. Then, we can design individualized cancer prevention strategies based on that person’s genetic makeup.

In addition, these genetic sources may be ideal targets for the next generation of molecular anticancer therapies that target only the cancer--sparing the patient the side effects of currently used drugs.


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