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Now What? Deciding What to Do (or Not Do) After Genetic Testing

Publication: Healthy Magazine, McAllen

While the majority of cancers happen by chance, scientists have found that some cancer risks are inherited or caused by a genetic change. If a certain kind of cancer appears to “run in a family,” it could indicate a possible hereditary link. Genetic testing can discern if there is a genetic connection for certain cancers. But what happens after testing?

Genetic testing is a tool that looks for changes in DNA to help determine if you are at high risk for certain cancer types. It allows those with a significant personal and family history of cancer to take steps for cancer prevention or early detection. Genetic testing can help you make informed medical and lifestyle decisions and provide useful information for other family members. State and federal laws protect patient privacy and prohibit health insurance discrimination based on genetic information. Still, it is not for everyone and it’s important for counseling, both before and after, to accompany testing.

A medical professional with specialized training evaluates family history to determine if a hereditary cancer is suspected and which testing would be useful. Texas Oncology’s Genetic Risk Evaluation and Testing Program can help determine if you should be tested and provides counseling to help you make an informed decision. If your family history suggests a higher risk, genetic testing may be right for you. What you will do with the test results is also an important consideration. Each patient is unique, but options include:

If results are negative (no genetic change is found),  your healthcare provider will review your personal and family history with you to discuss your cancer risks and determine the best personalized screening schedule.

If results are positive (a genetic change linked to cancer risk is found),  you may have several choices, which vary based on the type of genetic mutation for which you test positive. These choices often include heightened surveillance, chemoprevention and prophylactic surgery. Your healthcare provider will discuss what your test results mean for your relatives, as they may also be at increased risk and need testing.

Heightened surveillance means that you receive screenings more frequently and/or starting at a younger age than usual or have a different kind of screening, for the type of cancer for which you have high risk. Heightened screening schedules can help detect cancer in the earliest stages, when it is most treatable. Not every type of cancer has a widely-used screening method, but many most common cancers do, and doctors are constantly investigating new screening methods.

Chemoprevention uses medication to help reduce risk of cancer. Medications are already used in cancer treatments and new medications are being developed and tested for use as prevention tools. Chemoprevention cannot prevent cancer with 100 percent certainty but it can lower risks for certain types of cancer.

Prophylactic surgery, or risk reducing surgery, prevents cancer by removing the organs that have a higher cancer risk. Surgery is always a major step and the decision to have or forego a prophylactic surgery is a significant choice, one to be made in consultation with a physician.

Regardless of your family’s cancer history or your genetic risk status, you can live a healthier lifestyle and stay current on cancer screenings, which are two of the best ways to fight cancer and lower your disease risk. For more on genetic testing, healthy living and cancer prevention, visit TexasOncology.com.

By Debra Gillett R.N.

This story originally appeared in Healthy Magazine. To view this story, please click here.

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