We know that the color of our eyes, skin and hair comes from our DNA, a series of genetic markers. But our DNA also contains secrets to certain diseases we might develop. Today, genetic testing allows us to learn some of these secrets.
With a disease such as breast cancer, genetic testing can be a weapon in the fight. When patients find out their probability of having cancer, they can take action to decrease their risk in other ways. Approximately 5 to 10 percent of all cancers have a hereditary component.
What does genetic testing show?
Genetic testing for cancer can reveal mutations in your DNA. Mutations are like a typo or a misspelling in the gene. Our bodies have many tumor-suppressing genes whose role is to fight off cancer. If there’s a typo, they can’t fight the cancer, so there’s an increased risk.
What is the testing process like?
To guide patients through the process of genetic testing, Florida Hospital offers genetic counseling. Counselors can discuss and coordinate testing, interpret results and share options to consider after results arrive. The goal of genetic counseling is informed consent.
Genetic counseling and testing may be covered by your health insurance; so be sure to consult your policy. Patients who have cancer or meet one of the indicators for cancer should make a request.
What are the indicators for cancer?
- Cancer diagnosed at an unusually young age
- Several different types of cancer that have occurred independently in the same person
- Cancer that ‘s developed in both organs in a set of paired organs, such as both kidneys or both breasts
- Several close blood relatives who have the same type of cancer (for example, a mother, daughter, and sisters with breast cancer)
- Unusual cases of a specific cancer type (for example, breast cancer in a man)
- Presence of birth defects, such as certain noncancerous (benign) skin growths or skeletal abnormalities, that are known to be associated with inherited cancer syndromes
- Being a member of a racial/ethnic group that’s known to have an increased chance of having a certain hereditary cancer syndrome and having one or more of the above features as well
How it works
A genetic counselor will gather a detailed family medical history about your siblings, parents, aunts, cousins, grandparents, children and grandchildren.
For each relation, you’ll want to track any major health conditions, the age of onset for each condition, age of death and cause of death.
For some hereditary cancers, a simple blood test or saliva sample is all that’s needed. Your blood and saliva contain your DNA and genes, and provide a “spellcheck” of your tumor-suppressing genes. Results are available within two to four weeks.
What do I do with the information?
If you have an increased risk based on the test results, your genetic counselor will educate you and your family about the disease and assess the risk of passing it on to children. While test results don’t include specific recommendations, you and your physician can use the information as a guide to make future medical decisions.
5 Reasons to Consider Genetic Counseling
If you have any of the following, genetic counseling could help you assess your risk:
- Multiple close relatives with cancer.
- Early age of cancer diagnosis, younger than age 50.
- Multiple primary tumors in the same person.
- Presence of rare cancer or bilateral cancer (bilateral means occurring in both organs of an organ pair, such as breasts, kidneys or ovaries).
- Greater than 10 polyps with any cystology.