All this month, we've brought you stories about breast cancer: from warning signs to treatment. This week we take a closer look at genetic testing. YNN's Iris St. Meran sat down with a certified genetic counselor to learn more about the risks and benefits.
Cancer may run in your family, but experts say most of the time a disease like breast cancer is not heredity. In fact, experts say only a small percentage of women actually carry high risk genes. Genetic testing is not intended for everyone.
It first involves a lot of discussion: Discussion with your physician and discussion with your family. Certified Genetic Counselor Bonnie Braddock says the first thing you should do before you even considering genetic testing is to learn your family's health history.
Braddock explained, "If there is cancer in the family, try to find out exactly what organ the cancer started in for each relative, how old that p person was when they were diagnosed, how they were treated."
You should then share that information with your doctor, who will evaluate if you or a family member should undergo the blood or saliva test.
"Ideally the best strategy is to first offer the testing to somebody in the family who has the highest chance of finding a genetic change and that's generally somebody who's had an associated cancer," Braddock said.
There is some preparation before the test is done. Braddock says physicians will go over with patients what the test can reveal. Also discuss what it means if a gene mutation is found, and explore the patient's options and what can be done as far as surveillance and reducing risk.
What happens after the tests depends on the results. Braddock says the benefits of this testing are you can clarify what a person might be at risk for and how much risk he or she might face.
A downside can be the difficulty of discussing with families what it means if a gene is found to carry a disease. It's a complicated process, but the whole idea is to look at the test in context
Braddock said, "If a women's had breast cancer and tests for the more common, the BRCA genes and that does not show something, it doesn't necessarily mean that there's not a heredity risk factor in the family."
There are other genes medical professionals are aware of. If something is suspicious, further genetic testing is available. But the best thing you can do for yourself and loved ones is to be aware of what runs in your family, have many discussions with your health care provider and together come up with the course of action that is best for you.