Our expert voices conversation on genetic testing for cancer.
Genetic testing can be an important part of cancer risk assessment, but other factors should be considered. A history of cancer -- for you or your family, predisposing conditions, and lifestyle behaviors can all influence risk for the disease and should determine a strategy for prevention.
First step: There is no one-size-fits-all approach to cancer screenings, but a risk assessment should always be the first step. Routine cancer screenings, such as mammograms, are known to reduce the risk of dying from cancer, but for whom are they appropriate? And when? Determining that risk is the only way we can determine what screening tests to recommend.
What a test can tell you: Those at average and increased risk should be counseled in lifestyle changes to lower their risk, and in certain cases, preventive therapies may be prescribed to reduce risk. Cancer is often found at earlier stages with routine screenings and may require less extensive surgeries or less toxic treatments, such as a lumpectomy instead of a mastectomy for small breast cancers. Certain screening tests are also equipped to identify and remove pre-cancers, so that no treatment is required.
Bottom line: Routine cancer screenings are a life-saving tool, best used when you fully understand your personal cancer risk.
The other voices in the conversation:
- Theodora Ross, oncologist, UT Southwestern Medical Center: To test or not to test, that is the question
- Jill Hagenkord, chief medical officer, Color: Preventive genomics has arrived
- Charis Eng, geneticist, Cleveland Clinic's Lerner Research Institute: Genetic knowledge is power
- Sapna Syngal, geneticist, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute: Genetic testing doesn't always mean more certainty