- Genetic Testing:What You Need to Know
- Who should have genetic testing?
- Who pays for genetic testing?
- What happens during genetic testing?
- What if genetic testing shows an increased risk of getting cancer?
- What are the benefits of genetic testing?
- Do all health professionals know about genetic testing?
- What is the future of genetic testing?
- To learn more
Who should have genetic testing?
Predictive genetic testing is done only if you decide to have it. If you are concerned about your family’s pattern of disease, cancer you’ve had in the past, or other cancer risk factors, you may want to talk to your doctor about whether to have genetic testing.
Doctors will sometimes suggest patients have genetic testing if others in their family have had a certain disease or certain patterns of disease. If you have any of the following, you might consider genetic testing for yourself:
- Several first-degree relatives (mother, father, sister, brother) with cancer, especially the same type of cancer
- Cancers in your family that are known to be linked to a single gene mutation (for instance, breast, ovarian, and pancreatic cancer).
- Family members who developed cancer at a young age
- Close relatives with rare cancers that are linked to hereditary cancer syndromes
- A physical finding that is linked to hereditary cancer (such as many colon polyps)
- A known genetic mutation in the family (from one or more family members who have already had genetic testing)
It’s important to know what tests may be available. For some types of cancer, no known mutations have been linked to an increased risk. Some other cancer types may have known mutations, but genetic tests are not yet available for them. For more information on the types of cancers for which inherited genes may be important, please see our document called Heredity and Cancer.
You will want to think about what the results of testing may tell you before you decide to be tested. It’s important to find out how useful testing may be for you before you do it. A session with a genetic counselor before the actual test can help you know what to expect. The counselor can point out the pros and cons of the test. You will want to think about how the results might affect you and your relatives before your test, and discuss these issues with the counselor.
After the test is done, your genetic counselor will share the results with you. Some people choose to bring a family member to help them share results with other family members. Although testing does not always give you clear answers, the genetic counselor is trained to interpret and explain the test results and what they mean to you and your family. If a mutation is found, the counselor will talk with you about which of your family members might also be affected. It will be important for those family members to know exactly which mutation was found and where it was (which gene). They can discuss this information with their doctors and consider being tested as well.
Last Medical Review: 12/06/2011
Last Revised: 12/06/2011