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Could genetic testing for cancer be right for you?
By Jodi Hulbert
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Could genetic testing for cancer be right for you?

A person’s medical and family history often hold clues about an increased cancer risk or an inherited cancer. Inherited genetic mutations play a major role in five to 10 percent of all cancers. Many of these genetic mutations have now been identified, and genetic testing can usually confirm whether a condition is, indeed, the result of an inherited syndrome.

Many experts recommend genetic testing should be considered a) when someone has a personal or family history that suggests an inherited cancer risk condition; b) when the test results can be adequately interpreted; and c) when the results can provide information to help guide a person’s future medical care.

Anyone considering genetic testing should speak with a trained genetics professional before deciding whether to go through the process. Genetic counseling includes a detailed review of the individual’s personal and family medical history related to possible cancer risk. Counseling also includes discussions about such issues as the medical implications of a positive or a negative test result, the possibility that a test result may not be useful in making health care decisions, the psychological risks and benefits of learning one’s genetic test results, and the risk of passing a genetic mutation (if one is present in a parent) to children.

Genetic testing is not right for everyone, and the test itself has limitations. It does not always provide a simple "yes" or "no" answer about hereditary cancer risk within a family. It can also be expensive if it’s not covered by a health insurance plan. In some instances, a genetic counselor will even recommend genetic testing not be done for any number of reasons.

These features might suggest a hereditary cancer syndrome and may warrant discussion with a genetic counselor:

  • Cancer that was diagnosed at an unusually young age;
  • Several different types of cancer that have occurred independently in the same person;
  • Cancer that has developed in both organs in a set of paired organs, such as both kidneys or both breasts;
  • Several close blood relatives that have the same type of cancer;
  • Unusual cases of a specific cancer type (for example, breast cancer in a male);
  • The presence of birth defects, such as certain noncancerous skin growths or skeletal abnormalities, that are known to be associated with inherited cancer syndromes; or
  • Being a member of a racial/ethnic group that is known to have an increased chance of having a certain hereditary cancer syndrome and having one or more of the above features as well.

Learn more.

The experts at Mercy Cancer Center can help determine if you are a good candidate for genetic testing, and ensure results are interpreted and explained correctly. Contact Mercy Cancer Center at (515) 643-8206 for more information.


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