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Genetic Cancer Testing - Is It Right For Me?

Genetic testing can play an important role in a patient’s personalized cancer treatment program. A genetic counselor can help assess your risk, explain your options and address how the results can impact your care.

Recently, we asked oncology nurse practitioner Wendy Bosley, MSN, CRNP, to tell us more about it. Bosley has more than 20 years oncology nursing experience caring for patients with many different types of cancer in all staging and treatment phases of care.

Q. Who needs genetic testing?

While the majority of cancer is not inherited, in some cases cancer can be associated with a change in a person’s gene or DNA. This broken gene can be passed down through generations, significantly increasing cancer risk in some cases. Genetic testing may be recommended for people who have had certain kinds of cancer or patterns of cancer in their family. These red flags include:
  • Cancer at an early age – 50 years or younger
  • Certain rare cancers – such as male and triple negative breast cancer or ovarian cancer
  • Multiple cancers – multiple members within the family may have cancer or one individual may have multiple cancers
  • Ashkenazi Jewish Ancestry

Q. What will genetic testing tell me?

You do not have to already have cancer to get a genetic test. A genetic counselor can explain what to expect, tell you about the pros and cons of the test, what the results might mean and what your options are. Predictive genetic testing is used to look for inherited gene mutations that might put a person at higher risk of getting certain kinds of cancer. Testing after a person has been diagnosed with cancer can sometimes give information on a patient’s prognosis and whether certain types of treatment might be useful.

Q. Why is genetic testing important?

If you test positive, a genetic counselor can discuss the best ways to help manage your cancer risk. These may include lifestyle changes, like losing weight; increased surveillance (watching for signs and symptoms of cancer); medicines to reduce your cancer risk or even preventive surgery.

CalvertHealth’s high-risk clinics are designed as an additional resource for patients who are at increased risk for breast and lung cancer to provide them with the added surveillance, management and education they need to implement risk-reducing strategies to increase their overall survival.

Q. How does it benefit my treatment?

One of the biggest advancements and areas of research is targeting genetic mutations for treatment. One example is BRCA-associated tumors in metastatic breast and ovarian cancer. We now have specific drug treatments available. So, finding out if you have this mutation leads to specific treatment options.
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