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A man curious about his cancer risks gets a mouth swab for genetic testing.

Is genetic testing essential to determine the risk of cancer?

Posted in: Blogs

When the body’s cells grow and divide in ways that our systems can’t manage, they become cancerous. Lifestyle and environmental factors can influence these changes, but our changing genes also play a crucial role in determining an increased risk of developing cancer. Here’s how genetic testing helps determine cancer risks:

1.  It helps locate specific gene mutations.

2. The tests can help give an estimation on developing cancer in the future.

3. Helps you understand your family’s genetic history of cancer.

Read on to learn more about genetic testing and detecting cancer risks.

What is genetic testing?

Genetic testing is the use of medical tests to locate specific gene mutations in people. There are many ways to use genetic testing; one of them is finding gene changes linked to cancer.

Examples of cancer genes include BRCA1 and BRCA2. Normally, the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes protect you from certain cancers, but mutations can keep them from working correctly. Three percent of breast cancers and 10% of ovarian cancers result from mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.

What are BRCA1 and BRCA2? 

These are genes that help repair damaged DNA by producing specific proteins. Everyone has two copies of these genes, one inherited from each parent. When they change or mutate into harmful variants, they are called tumor suppressor genes.

How is genetic testing useful in learning about cancer risk?

Genetic testing can be practical in helping give you an estimate of whether you have the chance of developing cancer in the future. It can help identify genes inherited from first-degree relatives and may put some numbers on cancer risk depending on the exact gene change.

Genetic testing is also helpful in determining if you have hereditary cancer syndrome, which involves the mutations of genes passed from parents to children.

What is hereditary cancer syndrome? 

An inherited condition in which there is a much higher risk for certain cancers. Examples of hereditary cancer syndromes include hereditary breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

Other examples of cancers influenced by specific genes include the following:

● Breast cancer

● Pancreatic cancer

● Prostate cancer

● Ovarian cancer

● Colorectal cancer

When should you get genetic testing?

People who have had a diagnosis of cancer, or if have a relative diagnosed with certain types of cancer. Genetic testing may allow you to decide what sort of preventive measure could be taken.

Who are candidates for genetic testing?

Patients and their relatives who have had a cancer diagnosis before the age of 50 should look into genetic testing. Here are other characteristics one would need to consider genetic testing for cancer risks.

● Several types of cancer in the same individual

● Cancer is detected in both organs in a paired set (kidneys, lungs, breasts, or ovaries)

● Several relatives with the same kind of cancer

● Relatives with breast cancer, ovarian cancer, colon cancer, or endometrial cancer

Does someone carrying cancer genes always get cancer?

Although a cancer susceptibility variant exists in a family’s genetic history, this doesn’t always mean descendants who inherit the gene will develop cancer later on. Inherited cancers can vary in how they express signs and symptoms, and not all people who carry the cancer gene end up getting cancer.

What is involved in genetic testing for cancer?

Genetic testing begins with a consultation with a genetics counselor or doctor who will evaluate a person and their family history. A sample will be taken from inside the patient’s cheek―tissue, saliva, or blood. These samples are then sent to the laboratory who then sends results to the doctor or genetic counselor. Results can take up to several weeks and are typically covered by health insurance.

If you or someone you know faces a cancer diagnosis or is at increased risk for developing cancer, reach out to our specialists at St. Joseph Health Cancer Center today. Our cancer center includes the most advanced diagnostics and clinical treatments available, all performed with compassion and kindness by board-certified cancer doctors―oncologists, radiologists, and surgeons. Talk to your primary care physician about your potential genetic predisposition to cancer today.

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