Health Magazine

Genetic Testing…It’s Your Choice

Posted on the 07 February 2012 by Jean Campbell

genetic testingFollowing my second breast cancer, another primary, I was strongly encouraged to have genetic testing.

Before I agreed, I researched the pros and cons of genetic testing. Here is what I learned:

  • Genetic testing is a process that looks for inherited genetic alterations that may increase your risk of certain cancers.
  • For breast and ovarian cancer risk, a simple blood drawing is all that is necessary for testing. The test involves looking for altered genes such as BRCA1 and BRCA2. Finding an altered gene can take several weeks. So your test results may not be ready right away.
  • The price of testing varies and, in some cases, may not be covered by health insurance.  Ask your doctor or other health professionals for more information on genetic testing, privacy issues, and insurance coverage.

Before getting tested, learn /think about:

  • The limits of the test
  • The advantages and disadvantages of the test
  • Would knowing this information cause me to make changes in my medical care?

Find out the limits of the test:

  • Testing for breast and ovarian cancer risk will not give you a simple “yes” or “no” answer.
  • If a gene alteration is found, this will tell that you have an increased risk of getting cancer, but it will not tell if or when cancer will develop.
  • If an alteration is not found, it still is no guarantee that cancer won’t develop.

Concerns about impact of learning results?

  • Genetic testing can affect relationships with family members.
  • Think about who in your family might want to know your test results, and who you’d like to tell.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Genetic Testing

Having a genetic test may help  to:

  • Make medical and lifestyle choices
  • Clarify your cancer risk
  • Decide whether or not to have risk-reducing surgery
  • Give other family members useful information, should you choose to share results
  • May explain why you or other family members have developed cancer

The disadvantages to testing:

  • There is no guarantee that your test results will remain private
  • Although rare, you may face discrimination for health, life, disability, and other insurance
  • You may find it harder to cope with your cancer risk when you know your test results
  • If you find that you do not have an inherited altered gene, you may think that you have no chance of getting cancer. People who are found not to have an inherited cancer gene can still get cancer.

If  I find out that I have an inherited altered gene:

You can make choices that help lower your risk of getting cancer or help find cancer early. You do not need to be tested to consider these options.

  • Increased monitoring. You may choose to be watched more closely for any sign of cancer. This can include more frequent breast and pelvic exams, mammograms, breast MRI, breast self-exams, ultrasound of the ovaries and breasts, and blood tests.
  • Risk-reducing surgery. Called prophylactic (PROH-fuh-LAK-tik) surgery, this is when women choose to have healthy ovaries and/or breasts removed to reduce their chance of getting cancer.

Before Deciding:

If you are considering genetic testing,  talk with a professional trained in genetics before deciding whether to be tested.

For more information on genetic testing or for a referral to centers that have health care professionals trained in genetics, call the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Information Service toll-free at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237), or visit online at

In the end, I chose to have genetic testing. The results..negative. So now I know for sure that, like most of us with breast cancer, the cause of my breast cancer is still an unknown.

Source information: National Cancer Institute

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