From Hannah Kolish, MSN, APRN

January 24, 2024

What is Cancer Genetic Testing?

Today, tests are available to detect cancer-related genes in the human body.  Gene testing can determine if you have a disease-related gene condition that may put you at a higher risk of getting cancer before symptoms appear.

Hannah Kolish MSN APRN

OHC advanced practice provider and cancer genetics specialist, Hannah Kolish, MSN, APRN

Who Should Consider Testing?

If you have been diagnosed with cancer before the age of 50, have multiple family members with the same type of cancer, or have experienced multiple cancers, you may want to speak you’re your healthcare provider about genetic counseling.  OHC’s cancer genetic counseling program is here to help you determine whether you need cancer genetic testing, and to help you address the next steps, should you test positive with any genetic link.  You do not have to be an OHC patient to be referred to one of our genetics specialists.

Are You At Risk?

Your genes may predict your risk of cancer, and certain genetics may help your doctors provide better screening or treatment options.  If you have certain types of cancers or cancer in your family, you may be at higher risk. 

Why is Testing Important?

Although genetic testing cannot predict whether or not you will develop cancer, understanding your risk of developing the disease can be an important step.  Regular screening and lifestyle changes may help reduce your risk of developing cancer.

How Is It Completed?

Genetic tests are usually requested by a person’s genetic counselor, doctor, or other health care provider who has reviewed the individual’s person and family history. The genetic test options from which a health professional may select include those that look at a single gene and those that look for harmful variants in multiple genes at the same time. Tests of the latter type are called multigene (or panel) tests. Genetic tests are done by taking a small sample of blood or saliva.  The sample is then sent to a laboratory that specializes in genetic testing.

 What is OHC’s Genetic Risk Assessment Program?

As part of our comprehensive cancer care services, OHC provides an in-depth cancer risk assessment for individuals with significant personal and/or family history of cancer.  Our cancer genetic specialists provide information and support to patients and their families by:

  • Educating you about the role genetics play in your cancer risk.
  • Assessing your risk of a genetic disorder by researching your family’s history and evaluating medical records.
  • Discussing the medical, social, and ethical impact of genetic testing on you and your family.
  • Interpreting genetic testing results and medical data.
  • Explaining and outlining possible treatments or preventive measures.

Is Cancer Genetic Testing Right For You?

The presence of one or more on the below list may suggest a hereditary cancer syndrome could be present and the patient or their family members may want to talk to our genetics team about conducting genetic tests.

Have you or a family member experienced any of the following?

  • Breast cancer before age 50, or male breast cancer at any age
  • Ovarian cancer at any age
  • Colon and/or rectal cancer before 50
  • Endometrial (uterine) cancer before age 50
  • Diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer
  • Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer
  • 10 or more colorectal polyps at one time (also called “adenomas”)
  • Two or more members of the family diagnosed with melanoma
  • Bilateral cancer (cancer in paired organs, ex. both breasts)
  • Multiple primary cancers
  • Known gene mutations in the family
  • Ashkenazi Jewish Ancestry with a personal or family history of breast and/or ovarian cancer
  • Known cancer gene mutations in your family
  • More than three family members with breast and/or ovarian cancer
  • More than two family members diagnosed with premenopausal breast and/or ovarian cancer at any age

What Happens Next?

Once your genetic testing is complete, an OHC genetics team member will go over the results and counsel you on the next steps.  If you test positive for a genetic mutation linked to a higher risk of cancer, they will recommend sharing your findings with your family members who may also be at risk.  At OHC, first-degree family members can receive free genetic testing for that specific gene up to 150 days from the day the results were reported, depending on the brand of test used.  The genetics team member will create a detailed plan of care with you, outlining the options you have to reduce your risk, including lifestyle alterations, medications, or preventative surgery. They will also share this plan with your entire healthcare team.

In the case of a negative test result, it is important that the patient’s doctors and genetic specialists ensure the patient is receiving appropriate cancer screening based on their personal and family history, and any other risk factors they may have. Even when the genetic testing is negative, some individuals may still benefit from increased cancer surveillance.

What Are The Benefits of Cancer Genetic Testing?

There can be benefits to genetic testing, regardless of whether a person receives a positive or a negative result.

  • An informative negative test can provide the person with peace of mind that a harmful gene variant was not inherited.
  • A positive test result provides the person an opportunity to understand and, in some cases, manage their cancer risks.
  • For people who are already diagnosed with cancer, the results of genetic testing may help them make decisions about their treatment and understand their risk for other cancers.
  • Genetic testing provides an opportunity for family members to learn about their own cancer risks.

To learn more about the OHC cancer genetics program, visit ohcare.com or please call OHC at 888.649.4800.  You do not need to be a current patient of OHC to schedule an appointment.

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