Would you look into a crystal ball to see your future health?
When it comes to what is written in your genes in the way of cancer risk, knowledge can truly be power.
With approximately 2 in 5 Canadians diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime, genetic testing provides a powerful new tool that anyone can use to protect their health.
When cancer “runs in the family,” it means that a genetic mutation like BRCA1 or BRCA2 is passed along the generations. These genetic mutations are linked to a higher risk of developing various cancers, which can affect both men and women such as HER2 negative metastatic breast cancer, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer and metastatic pancreatic cancer. For example, respectively, these genetic mutations signal a 60-90% and 45-85% lifetime risk of breast cancer in women, as well as an increased risk of male breast cancer.
For those with a cancer diagnosis, genetic testing can provide information about the most effective treatments. For others, testing can reveal if you have genetic mutations (changes in the genes) which predispose you to particular cancers. Those at a high risk of cancer can then consider vigilant screening, medications, or in some cases, proactive (and potentially life-saving) surgery.
Simply put, the more you can know about your risk of cancer or the particular cancer that you have, the better the outcomes will be.
If you are considering genetic testing, you can see a genetic counsellor; a medical professional with specialised training who can help you understand the pros and cons of having a genetic test and explain what the results may mean for you and your family.
Prior to getting a genetic test, it is helpful to understand your family health history as best as you can. This can mean conversations with family members about their health history. Cultural norms or differing needs for privacy can make these conversations sensitive. Choose a place to have the conversation and think about the timing that is most likely to be comfortable for all.
As well, once you get tested, you may wish to share your results with family members. If you’ve tested positive for certain genetic mutations your family members may also be impacted. Sharing this information can bring up a lot of complex emotions for family members, including concern for you, anxiety for themselves, or relief or guilt if they ultimately test negative. Relatives who have a preconceived idea about getting tested may change their mind about how much they want to know. Remember that there is no one right way to process this information.
Conversations with family members about genetic testing and cancer can be sensitive for a variety of reasons. But these conversations can put genetic testing in motion, and genetic testing can be a literal life-saver. For more information about genetic testing, speak with your doctor or go to www.carp.ca/testing