By Andi Hilliard Ybarra, MS, CGC

Better Health

Maybe you have lived through a cancer diagnosis with a close family member, just heard about a relative with some type of cancer, or you are just curious about your chance of having a hereditary cancer syndrome. In any case, you are wondering if you should be thinking about genetic testing. Now what?

“Genetic testing” is the new buzzword in popular culture. From beer glasses to skincare products, advertisers are using DNA or genetics to make their products appear more custom, personalized, and effective. Various celebrities use their influence to educate their fans about their journey with cancer and genetic testing. It is no wonder we want to know about our own DNA and our own risks for diseases like cancer.

With lots of information at your fingertips—some helpful and some just plain wrong—where do you start?

  1. First, start with your family. Ask about who has/had cancer, the type of cancer they have/had (for example breast, colon, kidney cancer, etc), and the age that they were diagnosed. You can also go to QuestHereditaryCancer.com to take a hereditary cancer risk quiz, and to learn more about hereditary cancer syndromes and genetic testing.
  2. With this knowledge, you are ready to talk to a healthcare provider such as a genetic counselor about your personal and family history of cancer. Be sure to bring the results of your Quest Diagnostics Hereditary Cancer Risk Quiz to help guide the conversation as your healthcare provider or genetic counselor will ask you questions about your personal and family history of cancer.
  3. Based on the conversation with your provider:
    1. you may be told that your personal and family history of cancer does NOT indicate an increased risk for a hereditary cancer syndrome. In this case, your provider does NOT think that you are at a higher risk for a hereditary cancer syndrome. You will be at the same risk for getting cancer as anyone else and should follow guidelines for routine screening. Your healthcare provider or genetic counselor can talk to you about recommended routine screening and/or you can visit the American Cancer Society website at cancer.org for the recommended screening. Remember that everyone is at risk to develop cancer but people with certain family and personal histories are at a higher risk.
    2. you may be told that your personal and family history of cancer is suspicious for a hereditary cancer syndrome. In this case, your provider may talk to you about the benefits and limitations of genetic testing for hereditary cancer syndrome. This is an optional test that may explain cancer in your family, indicate who else may be at risk, and give you and your family more options for early screening and treatment options.

There are many genetic tests for hereditary cancer out there. How do you know which one is right for you? This is where the expertise of your healthcare provider or genetic counselor comes in and all your hard work in getting the correct family history pays off! By looking at your family and personal history of cancer, he/she will talk to you in detail about the most appropriate genetic test, your possible test results, and the actions you can take based on your results.

Genetic tests come in many shapes and sizes. The best test for you depends on your personal and family history of cancer. We all have genes that are important for keeping cancer in check. When a change in one of these genes keeps the gene from working properly, your risk of developing cancer goes up. Some non-working genes cause many different types of cancer, while others cause only a few types of cancer. Also, the same type of cancer can be caused by different non-working genes. For this reason, your provider or genetic counselor may talk to you about genetic testing for one or a few cancer genes or they may talk to you about testing for many genes at once. Since everyone’s family and personal history of cancer is different, there are genetic tests that screen for a single gene, several genes or even a panel of 50 genes or more. You can learn about genetic testing for hereditary cancer at www.QuestHereditaryCancer.com.

You are not in this alone! Your provider, genetic counselor, and laboratory are available to help you through the muddy waters of genetic testing.

More information about Quest’s hereditary cancer offerings can be found at https://www.QuestHereditaryCancer.com. Healthcare providers can call 1.866.GENE INFO (1.866.436.3463) and speak to our Genomics Client Service Specialists and genetic counselors for more information.