We all know someone who has been affected by cancer. Many of us may even have a family member who has battled the disease. This may lead you to consider genetic testing to see if you’re at risk, too. But before you consider getting genetic testing, it’s a good idea to ask your doctor for a referral for a genetic counselor.
Genetic counselors are experts in the field, and they have encountered many patients who have taken genetic tests that aren’t the best fit. For example, the easiest genetic panel for doctors to order is one that covers “every kind of cancer,” but this is not always the best test. Genetic testing is not a screening test (like a mammogram or colonoscopy) that everyone needs. It is only necessary to test genes that would affect the part of the body in question, like the breasts.
Let’s consider two scenarios:
- Jane has a family history of breast cancer only. She may only need 10 genes analyzed (of course this depends on many factors that genetic counselors analyze while reviewing a family history), and it is unnecessary to test more than that.
- Ann has a large family history of colon, uterine and breast cancer, so in her case, more genes would be necessary to make sure all possible genetic mutations were accounted for during that testing.
These two women, if they had similar sized families and similar inheritance patterns of cancer, would not receive the same genetic testing.
Secondly, it’s simply not enough to know if you have a potentially harmful genetic mutation. A genetic counselor can correctly interpret your test results, help you completely understand your test results, and help you understand your cancer risks. She can also discuss how frequently you should be screened, if your children should be screened as well, and, if necessary, any preventive surgeries to reduce your risk.
Genetic counselors are your best resource if you’re considering genetic testing. For more information or to get in touch with a genetic counselor, click here.