Genetic testing

Cancer is caused by the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells, a process triggered by mutations in the cells’ genes. As these cells multiply, they cluster together to form tumors or crowd out healthy cells in the bloodstream. Most cancers occur by chance or sporadically. Gene changes may result from a random mistake when cells divide. Genes may also change in response to lifestyle habits and/or environmental exposures or injuries.

People in some families have what is known as a hereditary cancer syndrome, a cancer risk that runs in the family. These syndromes are classified by a specific gene mutation or mutations that are passed down from one generation to the next. Certain syndromes may be linked to the risk of developing multiple cancers. For instance, patients with Lynch Syndrome, linked to the mutation of several genes, are at high risk of developing several reproductive or gastrointestinal cancers. Hereditary cancer syndromes are associated with 10 percent of all cancer diagnoses. However, not everyone who is born with a tendency for a gene mutation will develop cancer.

Hereditary risk assessment

During your initial evaluation period at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA), you will fill out a questionnaire that includes questions about your personal and family history of cancer. This information will help determine whether you are a candidate for genetic testing.

The following are some indications of a hereditary cancer risk:

  • Family member with a known inherited gene mutation
  • Breast, colon or uterine cancer diagnosed under the age of 50
  • Ovarian cancer diagnosed at any age
  • Two or more close family members who have had the same type of cancer
  • The same type of cancer in several generations of the family

Genetic testing may be useful in helping you make informed decisions about how to manage future risks of cancer. For example, if it is determined that you are at greater risk than the “average” patient for breast cancer recurrence, we may recommend adding breast MRIs to your routine screenings. Also, if you are a woman who has breast cancer and you find out that you have an inherited risk, you may be at an increased risk for developing ovarian cancer. We will present you with options that may reduce that risk. If you already have cancer, testing may help determine whether it resulted from an inherited gene mutation or whether you are at an increased risk of developing a second cancer.

A genetic test requires a DNA sample that can be obtained from blood, saliva or a mouthwash sample. Before and after your test, you may choose to meet with a genetic counselor to discuss your questions and concerns. You will learn about the role of genes and hereditary in the development of cancer and which of your family members may be affected. The test results may also help your doctor develop a care plan individualized just for you.