Genetic testing: What is it? How can it help you?

Tests can determine if some people are at a higher risk for certain cancers.

When it comes to cancer — any cancer — the earlier it can be detected for treatment to begin, the better the chances for the best possible outcome for the patient.

This means staying up to date on all screenings as well as being aware of any risk factors and potential early symptoms to catch the cancer after it forms as soon as possible.

But what if you knew which cancers you were at greater risk for before they potentially developed?

Who should consider
genetic testing?

  • Several relatives with cancer
  • A personal or family history
    of a rare or unusual cancer,
    such as male breast cancer
  • A relative with more than one
    type of cancer
  • A personal or family history of
    cancer under the age of 50

What is genetic testing?

Genetic testing determines if someone has inherited (from birth) defected genes — called variants — that may be an indicator for an increased risk of developing a particular form of cancer.

Not all variants are associated with cancer. Some may carry a beneficial effect, with some having no effect whatsoever, but other harmful mutations have been shown to contribute to 5 to 10 percent of all cancers.

But when it comes to the discovered forms of inherited cancers, certain variants have been discovered, and tests can be performed to determine their presence in a person, discovering which cancers they’re at a potential high-risk for developing.

The test is performed by taking a small sample of body fluid — blood or, in some cases, saliva.

How can it help you?

A harmful variant's presence does not mean that a cancer will definitely develop. It means an increased risk that one might develop, but it’s far from a certainty.

But if someone knows which cancers they might be at a greater risk of developing, this will allow them to work with their physician to more thoroughly monitor symptoms, screen for those cancers or perhaps take preventive actions.

And should the cancer develop, knowing about that variant can assist in the development of a care plan.