Genetic Testing for Cancer

Is genetic testing right for you?

If you have a family history of cancer, you may be wondering if you are more at risk of developing cancer. Only about 5 percent to 10 percent of cancer cases are related to genetics. Though genetic testing is a great tool to help identify individuals who are especially at risk for developing certain cancers due to family history, it may not be right for everyone.

How genetics affect cancer

Genes seem to play two major roles when it comes to cancer: cancer development and cancer treatment. Oncogenes can cause cancer. These genes are mutated forms of normal genes called proto-oncogenes, which control a cell’s type and how often it reproduces. When a proto-oncogene mutates into an oncogene, the cell can grow out of control leading to cancer. Tumor suppressor genes stop cancer from developing and growing. Tumor suppressor genes are normal genes that slow down cell division and repair DNA mistakes or tell cells when to die (a process known as apoptosis or programmed cell death). Anyone can inherit an abnormal gene from either parent. However, when an abnormal gene is linked to cancer, a person is much more likely to develop the disease and at a younger age. Breast, ovarian, prostate and colon cancers are some of the cancers that are linked to family history. Even if a person was born with healthy genes, some genes may mutate over the course of their life due to exposure to things like smoking, radiation treatments, lack of exercising and unhealthy foods.

When to consider genetic testing

It is important to remember that genetic testing isn’t necessary for everyone. Remember to look at both sides of the family as well as take into consideration what toxins your family members have been exposed to that may have caused the cancer, such as cigarette smoking. At Diablo Valley Oncology we strive to provide the best care possible for each of our patients. When appropriate, our practitioners will ask their patient to fill out an in-depth questionnaire called the Genetic Risk Assessment Test, which will help determine if genetic testing through a certified genetic counselor is right for them.