Staying ahead of cancer. When should you undergo genetic testing?
Staying ahead of cancer. When should you undergo genetic testing?

Staying ahead of cancer. When should you undergo genetic testing?

Hereditary factors account for approx. 10-30 percent of all cancer cases[1]. They are particularly significant in the case of breast cancer and ovarian cancer, which are caused by a mutation of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, increasing the risk of ovarian cancer by approx. 40 percent and breast cancer by as much as 70 percent. It is estimated that today these disorders occur in 1 in every 300 women in Poland. Experts stress that those whose family members were diagnosed with cancer at an early age need to be particularly vigilant and should undergo testing for genetic predisposition.

What can our genes tell us?

Gene testing allows us to look into our DNA and get information that is significant to our health. It helps us answer many questions, such as whether we have inherited genetic mutations from our ancestors, or if are we predisposed to diseases, including cancers. This knowledge allows us to make informed decisions about taking preventive actions to reduce the risk of disease.
Genetic tests are especially recommended for people who have family history of colon cancer, pancreatic cancer, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, endometrial cancer, melanoma, kidney cancer, thyroid cancer or stomach cancer occurring before the age of 50. We should remember, however, that just because one of our relatives had cancer it does not mean that we will definitely get it ourselves, but it should increase our vigilance and encourage us to undergo regular tests. Based on test results, the doctor and patient together develop an individual plan for the prevention and early detection of cancer.

Having a genetic predisposition test done is the first step in cancer prevention. Depending on the type of cancer that occurred in the family, we should take a closer look at our health, while regularly undergoing a series of preventive examinations, such as breast and pelvic ultrasounds or a colonoscopy, if you are at a risk of colon cancer. We should also remember that, even if our test results indicate a lack of genetic predisposition to cancer, it does not give us 100 percent certainty that we will never get cancer, so the key to cancer prevention is undergoing testing, followed by regular preventive check-ups.

Agnieszka Motyl, MD, family medicine specialist and epidemiologist at Medicover

Early detection saves lives

In Poland, about ¾ of cancer patients already have stage III or IV cancer by the time they begin treatment, which often affects its results and effectiveness. It is also one of the reasons why the cure rate in our country is 30-40 percent, while in Europe 50-60 percent of patients recover, and in the US, where genetic testing is much more popular, it is more than 70 percent of patients [2].

Genetic testing – a milestone

Decrypting the human genome took 13 years and cost 3 billion dollars [3]. Nevertheless, genetic tests are being constantly improved, their range and application becoming increasingly broader.
There are many genes involved in cancer development and scientists have managed to identify some of them. Thus, by testing the DNA of a person we can detect the mutation indicating an increased risk of cancer.
And being aware of one’s predisposition to cancer allows a person to make informed decisions concerning the range of preventive and other measures reducing the risk of cancer. Today, genetic testing, in addition to cancer prevention, allows us to predict to a certain degree our body’s reaction to certain drugs, define our chances of having healthy offspring, and even create a diet tailored to our genome. A huge advantage of the test is the easy collection of the patient’s genetic material (a blood sample is enough) and the fact that the test must be done only once, as our genetic material does not change throughout our lifetime.

What do you gain by undergoing a genetic predisposition test?

Patients who decide to undergo a genetic predisposition test receive an assessment of the risk of developing a given type of cancer through the analysis of 60 genes that increase the risk of the illness. On this basis, an individual prevention plan is developed.
The test is performed during two visits. Before the first visit, the patient fills out a survey received via email concerning their family history of cancer. During their first visit the patient has their blood drawn. The genetic test is performed using the latest DNA analysis method (Next Generation Sequencing). Based on the test results and the patient survey, a specialist in genetic diagnostics provides their opinion, including individual recommendations for the patient, which is then sent to the Medicover Centre. For the test to yield the intended results and increase the patient’s awareness of their health, the genetic predisposition test also includes a second visit to the Centre. During that visit the doctor discusses the test results and recommendations, and together with the patient develops an individual plan for the prevention and early detection of cancer.

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