Genetic Testing - Knowledge Is Power

by Jane Ashley

It seems that we hear about a friend, a relative, a co-worker or someone in the news who gets diagnosed with cancer all too frequently. Although death rates for cancer have been declining since the 1990s, that is only part of the story — the diagnosis of cancer is traumatic, expensive and changes most people’s lives forever.

Genetic Mutations

Over 1/3 of the U.S. population will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives.

If our mother or father or one of our parents had cancer, does that mean we’ll have that same type of cancer? Of course, that’s the $64,000 question. Currently, there is no way to know which individuals will develop cancer.

But there are tests to help access our risk of developing cancer when there is a family history of cancer.

What is genetic testing?

Genetic tests can tell us our risk for developing cancer within our lifetime. These tests look for mutations in our genes, chromosomes and proteins that are genetic mutations. Genetic tests for cancer risk are available for these types of cancers:

• Breast
• Colon
• Kidney
• Melanoma
• Ovarian 
• Pancreatic
• Prostate
• Sarcoma
• Stomach
• Thyroid

These tests predict your risk to develop a particular type of cancer, but they can’t determine if you definitely will get cancer or not. They can also determine if you have genes that you can pass on to your children.

Mother Had Cancer

But most importantly, they can help you and your medical team develop a plan to detect cancer at its earliest stage so that it can be cured.

What are the pros and cons of genetic testing?

Many people struggle over the decision of whether to get genetic testing. There is no right or wrong answer. It’s an individual’s decision about what feels right for them.

Some of the pros are:

• You’ll know – good or bad, you’ll know and remove the uncertainty hanging over your head.
• You’ll receive in-depth counseling about your cancer risk.
• You can make educated decisions about modifying risk factors, including smoking, alcohol use and diet. You can also develop a plan for screening earlier and more frequently for early detection if you develop cancer.
• You can share your knowledge with family members.

Some of the cons are:

• If you are prone to be anxious, you may suffer from excessive stress and anxiety.
• Feeling guilty if your results are negative and another family member’s results are positive. Family dynamics might change.
• Your test results may be inconclusive.
• Genetic tests are expensive and might not be covered by insurance.
Fear of discrimination – especially for employment and getting insurance.
• A false sense of security if you get negative results. Negative results mean that you have average risks for developing cancer.

Family History

Who should get genetic testing?

You should talk to a genetic counselor if several first-or-second degree relatives have been diagnosed with any of the cancers listed above. 

Here are some of the questions that help determine if genetic testing might be appropriate for you.

• How many relatives had cancer? For how many was this cancer their cause of death?
• Have I been diagnosed at an early age?
• How will I use the information that I gain?
• Can my medical team utilize this information to treat me, help reduce my risk factors or detect cancer at its earliest stage?
• Have I had several different types of cancer?
• Have I had cancer in both organs of a set, like our kidneys, breasts or lungs?
• Have I been diagnosed with an unusual presentation, such as a male having breast cancer?
• Am I a member of an ethnic group or racial group, such as Ashkenazi Jewish, who is known to have a susceptibility to one or more types of cancer?

So … WhatNext?

We as patients and relatives of patients face difficult decisions about genetic testing. Some people would rather not know if they might be predisposed to the same kind of cancer that their mother or father had. Many people believe that fear of the unknown is worse than gaining the knowledge of what part, if any, their family members’ cancer might have on their health.
Armed with genetic testing results and appropriate counseling, many people can reduce their risk of death from cancer with genetic testing.

Click To Join Us At What Next (1)

Related Posts

Prostate Cancer and Genetic Mutations 

Oncotype Genetic Tumor Testing - Question

What does your return "checkup" visit to your doctor consist of? What if any tests are done?

Blog Home