Living with cancer blog

Genetic testing for cancer evolving

By Sheryl M. Ness, R.N. December 18, 2010

In recent years, genetic testing to predict your cancer risk has become more available. As researchers learn more about how genes can predict your cancer risk, it's important to consider all the options.

If you're in a high-risk family, you may be considering genetic testing. The most common cancers that have a genetic component include breast, ovarian, prostate and colon cancers (along with many others as well).

Before you undergo genetic testing, gather as much information as you can about your family and medical history. Talk with your doctor or a genetic counselor about your personal and family medical history. This will help you better understand your risk. Discuss any questions or concerns you have about genetic testing. Also, talk about what your options will be, depending on the results of the test.

If a positive genetic test is discovered, you'll be able to talk with an expert about your specific risk. Some of the benefits of genetic testing include early interventions to decrease risk of actually developing cancer, such as:

  • More frequent screening tests (detecting cancer earlier with increased survival rate — colon cancer is a good example)
  • Prevention strategies including positive lifestyle changes (such as diet and exercise)
  • Informed decisions can be made for pro-active interventions (for example a decision to have prophylactic mastectomy or removal of ovaries for women with high risk to develop breast or ovarian cancer)

The field of studying genes for predicting cancer is evolving constantly. We are only at the beginning stages of understanding how genes predict our cancer risk and many other aspects of health.

Please share your thoughts on this topic and your personal experiences.


Sheryl M. Ness, R.N.

Follow on Twitter: @SherylNess1

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Dec. 18, 2010