With the support of the Bhalwani Family Charitable Foundation’s targeted giving, the Bhalwani Familial Cancer Clinic is making it possible for greater numbers of people with a personal or family history of cancer to benefit from life-saving genetic testing, counselling and risk assessment services.

Located in the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto, medical professionals at the Bhalwani Familial Cancer Clinic evaluate patients based on family history and cancer gene panel tests, and approve high-risk patients for the most advanced cancer screening. To date, the Bhalwani Family Charitable Foundation has contributed $2.5 million to support the vital work of the Clinic.

Hereditary cancer risk assessment is the initial evaluation that patients receive when they have been referred to the Clinic. This evaluation, based on medical records and conversations with patients, seeks to isolate hereditary cancers that can be passed through the generations of a family. Based on the information collected, a genetic counsellor can estimate the chance that the cancer in your family is hereditary. 

After this initial review, genetic testing is performed to seek to determine cancer risk with greater precision. Genetic testing involves giving a blood sample that will be checked for a change in a gene that increases the risk of developing certain types of cancer. The Ontario Ministry of Health has some specific criteria to determine who is eligible for this type of testing.

Once risk has been measured, the Clinic provides genetic counselling to patients. 

Genetic counsellors are experts who help patients understand their risk of developing cancer, based on the initial review and genetic testing.  

As part of a genetic counselling session, patients have the opportunity to discuss:

  • Individual cancer risk
  • The latest advances in cancer genetics
  • Personalized cancer screening recommendations and referrals
  • The risks, benefits and limitations of genetic testing
  • Options for participating in research studies

Doctors typically refer patients to the clinic if an individual or his/her parent or grandparent has had any of the following: 

  • Young age at diagnosis of cancer (for example, under 35 years old with breast cancer)
  • Rare cancers (for example, male breast cancer, serous ovarian cancer, sarcoma)
  • Multiple cancer primaries in one individual
  • Multiple individuals in family with related cancer types (for example, breast and ovarian cancer)
  • An inherited predisposition has been found in the family

“Genetic testing for cancer risk has been proven in certain cases to save lives,” says Arif Bhalwani, one of the founders and directors of the Bhalwani Family Charitable Foundation.

“Our goal is to make genetic testing universal and eventually routine. Inherited cancers have touched our own family. We’ve seen first-hand how genetic testing can provide patients with better treatment options and dramatically improve survival rates. The technology is there. The will is there. The missing piece is, at times, a lack of resources, and the Bhalwani Family Charitable Foundation is committed to changing that.”