Genetic Assessment & Melanoma

Genetic tests

A family history of melanoma or a confirmed gene mutation related to melanoma may increase your risk of developing the disease. If you have either of these risk factors, genetic testing can provide helpful information for treatment planning.

Not everyone with these risk factors will develop melanoma.

During your first visit, your doctor will discuss your family and personal medical history, which will indicate whether genetic testing may be useful. If so, you can speak with our genetic counselors, who specialize in melanoma genetics. A geneticist will take a blood sample and analyze it to determine if you have an inherited gene mutation related to melanoma.

Genetics and melanoma

Most people who develop melanoma have no known risk factors and no family history of the disease. Some have a gene mutation (change in a gene) that they inherited from their mother, father, or both parents.

What is genetic testing for melanoma risk?

Genetic testing is a medical test that identifies changes in genes, chromosomes, or proteins. For melanoma, genetic testing can show whether you have inherited mutations in genes related to the disease. 

The study of melanoma genetics has advanced rapidly in recent years, making more testing options available. We use panel, or multi-gene, testing.

Before undergoing any genetic tests, speak with your doctor and a genetic counselor to understand the risks and benefits, as well as other issues.

Who should consider genetic testing?

Gene mutations are rare. Medical experts recommend testing for people who have specific risk factors:

  • Family member (parent, sibling, child, grandparent, grandchild, uncle, aunt, nephew, niece, or first cousin) with an inherited gene mutation related to melanoma
  • Personal history of melanoma at age 45 or younger
  • Family member diagnosed with melanoma at age 45 or younger
  • Personal history of melanoma at any age and a family member diagnosed with melanoma
  • Personal history of melanoma at any age and 2 or more family members diagnosed with melanoma

It may be challenging to gather this information from family members. When discussing genetic testing with them, let them know that the results can benefit them, too. The goal is to detect melanoma early.

If you have your family’s medical history, you can bring it to your first appointment. If not, your doctor will discuss your personal medical history with you and help you decide if you should consider genetic testing. Our genetic counselors can help with family communication and work with you to gather the history.

Why have genetic testing?

Whether the results show a gene mutation or not, genetic testing for melanoma can benefit you and your family. The results can:

  • Provide information to guide decision-making for cancer prevention and early detection, such as lifestyle choices and increased screening
  • Identify family members who are at high risk, as well as those who are not
  • Improve the chances of survival for family members who already have melanoma, by providing information to guide treatment choices

Cancer genetic counseling at Stanford

At Stanford, our Cancer Genetics Program has genetics physicians and licensed genetic counselors to help you understand genetic testing. They can help you decide whether it’s right for you and your family.

What to expect during your first appointment

One of our genetic counselors will meet with you to review your personal and family history, assess your risk, review testing options and discuss possible outcomes. We talk over what the results may mean for you and your family, and who else in your family may need testing if the results find a mutation.

The appointment lasts about 1 hour. If you choose to have genetic testing, we take a blood or saliva sample to collect your DNA for testing. It takes about 2 to 4 weeks to get the test results. The counselor will call you with the results.

If the results show a mutation, the next step is to meet with the counselor and a cancer genetics doctor. During this visit, we will:

  • Explain your test results
  • Provide medical recommendations
  • Discuss the implications for you and your family members

Contact the Cancer Genetics team

If you are considering genetic testing for multiple myeloma or have questions, talk with your doctor or call us at 650-498-6000.

Cancer Genetics Program in Palo Alto
Stanford Cancer Center
900 Blake Wilbur Drive
Palo Alto, CA 94304
Phone: 650-498-6000

Cancer Genetics Program in San Jose
Stanford Cancer Center South Bay
2589 Samaritan Drive
San Jose, CA 95124
Phone: 650-498-6000

Cancer Genetics Program at Stanford Valley Care
5565 W. Las Positas Blvd.
Pleasanton, CA 94588
Phone: 650-498-6000

Stanford Health Library

For confidential help with your health care questions, contact the Stanford Health Library. Professional medical librarians and trained volunteers can help you access journals, books, e-books, databases, and videos to learn more about medical conditions, treatment options, and related issues. Visit us at:

  • 875 Blake Wilbur, Palo Alto: First floor near the cafe, 650-736-1960
  • South Bay Cancer Center: Third floor lobby, 408-353-0197

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Current as of: 10/2019