Genetic Testing and Counseling
The risk of developing cancer can be influenced by the environment, genes, and family history. Our genetic instructions, or DNA, in every cell of our body, can play a role in the development of certain cancers.
Age, gender, and lifestyle factors — such as smoking, poor diet, and lack of exercise — play the biggest role in determining cancer risk. But some people are born with an increased risk. Individuals who inherit damaged, or mutated, genetic codes from a parent can have a higher risk for certain types of cancer, including cancer of the breast, ovaries, uterus, colon, and pancreas.
Adena Cancer Center partners with The Ohio State University/James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute to provide genetic testing and counseling services for its cancer patients.
Armed with the results, genetic counselors can advise patients and their families when to get earlier cancer screenings, such as mammograms, breast MRIs, and colonoscopies. Earlier screenings can detect cancer in its earliest and most treatable stages.
Genetic Testing for High-Risk Populations
Our genetic instructions are the blueprint for life. These instructions determine physical characteristics such as eye color, hair color, height, and susceptibility to certain diseases like cancer. Think of your genetic instructions in each of your cells as letters of the alphabet. These letters spell out the functions of your individual cells, how the cell will divide to create new cells, and, the timing of programmed death of each of these cells when their life cycle ends.
Every cell passes on an identical copy of the gene alphabet when it divides in two in order to create new cells. If a cell has a damaged alphabet of genetic codes, then it copies this damaged alphabet into the new cell when it divides in two. These cells with the damaged genetic codes no longer maintain its original specialized function, or they do not die when they should, and they keep multiplying to form a tumor. These tumors can be benign or a malignant cancer.
The spelling mistakes in these genetic instructions can be a risk factor for a cancer to develop. At the time of conception, one of the two sets of gene instructions we receive form each parent already has a spelling mistake. This is a gene mutation. The other parent passes us the working copy of the same gene. The correction of these spelling mistakes by the good gene is enough to suppress the formation of cancer. However, this protective gene can be damaged from exposures due to tobacco use, drinking excessive alcohol, and environmental exposures. Without the ability to correct the spelling errors in our inherited damaged genes, we become susceptible to certain cancers. This can lead to a diagnosis of a Hereditary Cancer Syndrome. Most common inherited cancer syndromes are breast and ovarian, colorectal, uterine, and Li-Fraumeni syndrome that leads to a number of cancers.
Considering your options
Genetic testing is fast and painless. The specialists at Adena will take a blood sample or use a cotton swab to collect cells from the inside of your mouth.
Then, based on the results, you may choose to take precautions such as scheduling regular exams or trying chemoprevention, the use of drugs or supplements to curb risk.
As part of testing, the cancer patient meets with the and Adena oncology nurse practitioner and OSU’s certified genetics counselor at the Adena Cancer Center for one hour telemedicine encounter where testing is performed.
Genetic testing for hereditary cancer syndromes is mainly done by a blood test, or saliva testing. In general, a person should have a cancer risk assessment for genetic testing when:
- When a person is diagnosed with cancer before the age of 50;
- When two members of the same side of the family is diagnosed with the same or related cancer, especially if those cancers occurred at ages younger than 50 years;
- When a person or a family member had cancer at an early age, or multiple cancers in their lifetime;
- When a known gene mutation exists in the family because another person was tested;
- When a person has a rare cancer, such as male breast cancer
- When a person may be anxious or wants to know more about their risk factors.
Once genetic testing is completed, it usually takes four weeks for a result. If a test is positive, the patient and any family member returns for an additional one hour video chat to set up genetic testing for any interested family members. Regardless of result, the patient will receive a detailed letter at the end of the process that outlines final results and recommendations. These recommendations include cancer screenings and risk of cancer for the patient’s family members.
Currently, the Adena Cancer Center offers genetic testing and counseling to its cancer patients, and not the general public. Any person interested in finding out more about hereditary cancer syndromes can contact the Cancer Center.