To test or not to test, that is the question
Our expert voices conversation on genetic testing for cancer.
Most people who have a genetic mutation that predisposes them to cancer don't know it. They also aren't aware they could act on that knowledge and make choices that could save their life. A seemingly ideal solution would be to make cancer genetic tests a primary care routine for all adults.
Here's the problem: Genetic testing is imperfect and genetic care is still in its infancy.
- Patients may think one normal test means they won't get cancer. But genetics is evolving and test results are predictions that are frequently under revision.
- There currently aren't enough genetic counselors to communicate what we know – and don't know – about test results and we're not close to meeting demand.
- Fear of discrimination by insurance companies or employers can stop patients from agreeing to routine genetic analysis.
A real solution: Prevention. Gain knowledge of your family's cancer history. Stop smoking. Limit how much alcohol you drink. Exercise regularly. Get vaccinated.
Bottom line: Even without knowing our genetic test result, we can make concrete choices to help avert a future cancer.
The other voices in the conversation:
- Jill Hagenkord, chief medical officer, Color: Preventive genomics has arrived
- Charis Eng, geneticist, Cleveland Clinic's Lerner Research Institute: Genetic knowledge is power
- Therese Bevers, prevention specialist, MD Anderson Cancer Center: What a cancer-risk assessment can tell you
- Sapna Syngal, geneticist, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute: Genetic testing doesn't always mean more certainty