How Cancer Genetic Testing Can Save Lives

If you’ve had a cancer genetic test and risk assessment, this is why you should share those results with your family.

7:00 AM

Author | Kara Milliron

Illustration depicting how cancer genetic testing can impact your family tree

Mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes significantly increase the risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer. Genetic testing can help reveal whether such a mutation runs in the family, which is why the results should be a family affair.

SEE ALSO: What Men Should Know About BRCA Variant Testing

Testing might start with someone who has already developed breast or ovarian cancer. The results might help the patient decide on a treatment course — a positive test suggests a much higher risk of additional cancer.

A positive test also has additional implications. Yes, the results are part of your medical record and private medical history, meaning they are your information. But they are also public, possibly affecting other family members. If the testing results identify other family members who may have a higher cancer risk, they can use the information to manage their risk and make informed decisions.

Understanding risk

Privacy laws prevent health care providers from sharing your medical information without your written consent, so it's up to you to share your test results. It's the only way for your family to hear this potentially lifesaving information.

Genetic testing information is relevant to both male and female family members and extended relatives, such as first cousins. If it is not clear which side of the family the mutation in the cancer susceptibility gene is being inherited from, tell both sides of the family.

If you have an inherited gene mutation, there's a 1 in 2 chance your mother, father, daughter, son, brother or sister also does. But others in the family also have the following risk:

  • Aunts and uncles: 1 in 4

  • Nieces and nephews: 1 in 4

  • Grandchildren: 1 in 4

  • Grandparents: 1 in 4

  • First cousins: 1 in 8

To help foster family communication, the Breast and Ovarian Cancer Risk Evaluation Program at the University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center sends each patient a personalized letter. This letter explains the test results and their implications, which makes it easier to share with family.

SEE ALSO: What Women Should Know About Breast Density

Cancer risk counseling's goals are to provide accurate information on the environmental and genetic factors related to a person's risk for developing cancer, to discuss options for cancer prevention, and to promote adherence to medical recommendations. Extending this information to at-risk family members is paramount.

But we all know families share more than just genes, and these factors may affect communication. Even if you don't usually communicate with your relatives, it is crucial to share genetic testing information with all of them. There are things that can be done for people at risk for inherited susceptibility to cancer. You might help save a life.


More Articles About: Cancer Care BRCA Genetic Risk genetic counseling Cancer: Help, Diagnosis & Treatment
Health Lab word mark overlaying blue cells
Health Lab

This article is from the Health Lab digital publication.

Media Contact Public Relations

Department of Communication at Michigan Medicine

MichMedmedia@med.umich.edu

734-764-2220

Newsletter

Get a weekly digest of medical research and innovation, straight to your inbox.

Subscribe
Featured News & Stories cancer cells microscope blue green
Health Lab
Certain gene signaling rewires tumors after immunotherapy
For some patients, immunotherapy furthers tumor progression instead of halting it. What distinguishes those who benefit from those who don’t?
older man holding hands up over head celebrating in hospital bed
Health Lab
Rebounding at 87 after CNS lymphoma
William Moldwin published a book, won awards and is making more plans for his future.
machine green laser grid metal
Health Lab
Tracking radiation treatment in real time promises safer, more effective cancer therapy
Radiation, used to treat half of all cancer patients, can be measured during treatment for the first time with precise 3D imaging developed at the University of Michigan.
Mouse model of human colorectal cancer
Health Lab
High levels of ammonia in colon tumors inhibits T cell growth and response to immunotherapy
In mouse models and serum samples, an FDA-approved drug that lowers ammonia levels made the tumors more sensitive to treatment.
Woman with a headscarf having her heart checked by a man with a stethoscope.
Health Lab
New biomarker strategy devised to screen for, diagnose deadly heart complication from cancer treatment
Myocarditis related to immune checkpoint inhibitors always co-occurs with damage to skeletal muscle, the study finds.
vein dna moving yellow blue red
Health Lab
Liquid biopsies could predict survival odds for patients with metastatic cancer
Liquid biopsies, a certain type of blood test, can be a helpful tool to guide treatment discussions for patients with metastatic cancer.