Cancer is a formidable adversary, affecting millions worldwide and causing profound physical, emotional and financial challenges. Understanding the genetic causes and foundations of cancer can empower individuals and families to make informed, proactive healthcare decisions. It can also open doors to personalized treatment options. In this blog post, we delve into how genetic testing and counseling can benefit cancer patients and families with a history of cancer. 

Genetic Testing: A Window into Personalized Prevention and Treatment

Advances in genetic testing have revolutionized the field of oncology. Today, genetic testing can provide valuable insights into an individual’s cancer risk, diagnosis, and recommendations for treatment and prevention. For those concerned about their risk of cancer, genetic tests can identify specific gene alterations or mutations associated with increased susceptibility to certain types of cancer. Once these risks are known, a care team can create a personalized screening and prevention plan aligned with individual risk factors. Alternatively, a negative cancer screening test can alleviate much stress and worry.

Genetic testing can also be used in diagnosis, allowing a medical geneticist to see mutations that occur in the DNA of cancer cells but not in normal cells. These mutations can be unique to a particular cancer type or subtype and help identify rare or unusual forms of the disease. 

For cancer patients, genetic testing can be instrumental in finding the most effective treatment. For instance, a medical geneticist may be able to identify the exact genetic alterations that cause cancer cells to spread and grow. Once these are known, doctors can provide more targeted treatments. These targeted therapies can attack cancer cells with specific vulnerabilities while minimizing damage to healthy cells. This personalized approach increases treatment efficacy and reduces potential side effects to improve patient outcomes. Targeted therapies may be especially beneficial for rare or unusual forms of cancer that do not respond to traditional chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Genetic testing may also allow patients to qualify for clinical trials for new treatments and therapies.

Hereditary Cancer Syndromes: A Family Matter

Genetics affects individual patients as well as their families. Some families carry genetic mutations that significantly increase the risk of certain types of cancer. These hereditary cancer syndromes can be passed down from generation to generation, potentially impacting numerous family members. Identifying these mutations through genetic testing can help family members understand their risk. Genetic testing can also help care providers diagnose rare hereditary cancer syndromes that may otherwise have gone undetected.

Once a family learns about hereditary cancer syndrome through genetic testing, family members can take proactive steps to manage the risk. Increased surveillance — such as regular screenings and check-ups — can help detect cancer at its earliest stages, when treatment is most effective. High-risk individuals may also choose to take recommended preventive measures such as surgery or medications to reduce their chances of developing cancer. 

Genetic Counseling: Patient Support and Education

Deciding to do genetic testing and learn about your cancer risk can be scary and overwhelming. Genetic counselors can help. They educate patients and their families on relevant medical information and offer support and counseling along the way. After reviewing family histories and medical records together with the patient, genetic counselors help patients understand the benefits, risks, and limitations of genetic testing. After testing, genetic counselors discuss the DNA results with their patients, covering the likelihood of developing cancer, screening options and prevention strategies. They answer patient questions and may provide resources and referrals to other healthcare providers.

Genetic counseling is critical for anyone considering cancer screening and risk assessment. Genetic testing can uncover deeply rooted fears and anxieties, as individuals grapple with their susceptibility to cancer. A genetic counselor is trained to help patients and their families navigate both the medical decisions and emotional complexities associated with whatever their DNA reveals.

Research and Discovery: A Brighter Future

Genetic testing of cancer patients and families with a history of cancer can help drive research advancements and discoveries in the oncology field. By identifying genetic mutations and other biomarkers associated with rare diseases, researchers can better understand the underlying mechanisms of these diseases. From there, they can develop and test new diagnostic and therapeutic approaches. By seeking genetic testing, patients can benefit not only themselves and their loved ones, but also other individuals and families long into the future.

Decide If Genetic Testing is Right for You

Genetics plays a pivotal role in the lives of cancer patients and those with a family history of cancer, offering personalized treatment options and proactive risk management strategies. As researchers continue to unravel the complex relationship between genetics and cancer, increased awareness and education will be vital in empowering patients and their families to face this formidable foe.  

If you or a family member has been affected by cancer, talk to your healthcare provider about genetic testing. Remember, knowledge is power and proactive measures can make a significant difference in preventing or detecting cancer at its earliest stages. Together, let us harness the power of genetics to combat cancer with resilience and hope.

SequenceMD offers in-person and telemedicine genetic evaluation and counseling services for adult patients and is licensed to see patients in Colorado, Wyoming, Arizona and Michigan. Our practice is committed to providing efficient access to patient-centered medical evaluations that include genetic counseling, testing and interpretation. For patients who have an established genetic or metabolic diagnosis, we also provide ongoing specialty care for periodic review of the natural history as well as interval health assessments and management and care recommendations. To learn more, submit a request online or get in touch with our team at 303-832-7109 or!