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Genetic Testing for Hereditary Cancer

Learn about genes and cancer, signs of hereditary cancer, genetic counseling, types of genetic tests and what results mean for you and your family.

Benefits and limitations of genetic testing

Genetic testing for gene mutations associated with hereditary cancer can provide important medical information for the person undergoing the testing and for his or her blood relatives.

Benefits of genetic testing for people already diagnosed with cancer

  • It can help women diagnosed with breast cancer make surgical decisions such as whether to undergo lumpectomy and radiation or bilateral mastectomy.
  • It can help people diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer or advanced ovarian cancer make decisions about treatment with PARP inhibitors
  • It can help men diagnosed with prostate cancer make treatment decisions.
  • It can help people diagnosed with cancer qualify for clinical trials enrolling people with hereditary cancer.
  • It can help people already diagnosed with cancer understand their risk for additional cancers.
  • It can help family members who have not had cancer better understand their risk for cancer. 

Benefits of genetic testing for people who have not been diagnosed with cancer

  • Testing negative may mean that the person did not inherit a mutation and they do not have an elevated risk for cancer.
  • It can help people better understand and manage their cancer risk.

Limitations of genetic testing

Genetic testing is not right for everyone. Some limitations of genetic testing include: 

  • It does not always provide a simple "yes" or "no" answer about hereditary cancer risk within a family. There are test results that are "uninformative" which do not provide any additional information about a family's cancer risk.
  • Not everyone is a candidate for genetic testing.
  • Testing can be expensive if not covered by insurance, however, financial aid and low-cost options may be available

An expert in cancer genetics can explain all the benefits and limitations further based on your personal situation. They can help you decide whether or not to move forwards with genetic testing. 

Updated 11/05/2018

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