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Expert Voices

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: