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The University of Chicago Medicine - Comer Children's Hospital

Cancer: Familial Cancer Clinic

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

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

Because familial cancer syndromes are extremely rare, it is critical to have a physician who is an expert in these cancers. Our physicians have years of experience in treating and researching rare pediatric cancers. We 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.

Meet Our Cancer Risk Experts

Pediatric oncologist, Ami Desai, MD, provides dedicated, compassionate care to children that have been diagnosed with cancer and blood diseases, such as neuroblastoma, sarcoma and leukemia. Dr. Desai has a particular interest in investigating and developing novel treatments for childhood cancers.

Melody Perpich, M.S., C.G.C. is a board certified genetic counselor in the Pediatric Cancer Risk Program at the UChicago Medicine Comer Children's Hospital. She received her graduate degree in genetic counseling from the University of Michigan, and specializes in cancer genetics and risk assessment. Her clinical interests include prenatal, pediatric, preimplantation and cancer genetics. She has additional expertise in assisted reproductive technologies and how they are useful for cancer patients at risk of losing reproductive potential after cancer treatments.

With a passion for educating patients and medical professionals about genetics, Melody regularly lectures and conducts workshops at local, regional, and national conferences on various topics, including prenatal genetics, teratogens, genetic counseling, and preimplantation genetic diagnosis. She has also written and co-authored articles several articles and developed education materials for community and professional audiences.

Melody serves as a core faculty member and clinical rotation supervisor for the Genetic Counseling Master's Program at Northwestern University.