Q. Is genetic testing necessary or just helpful for treatment?
There are two main types of testing that can be helpful for treatment, although it is up to oncologists to determine whether or not genetic testing is necessary for specific patients. One type of genetic testing is predictive genetic testing, to see if a patient has a higher risk of certain types of cancer. Predictive genetic testing may affect the type of treatment suggested once cancer is diagnosed, due to existing knowledge about connected inherited cancers.
The other type of testing is when oncologists test cancer cells to determine the precise mutation that led to cancer, called genomic testing. This may be an inherited mutation, or may be an acquired gene change that occurred due to environmental or unknown reasons. Testing existing cancerous cells for their gene changes helps patients to have more information about recurrence rates, targeted treatment, and treatment choices.
To determine if genetic testing is necessary for a specific type of cancer, patients can ask their oncologists, or request to meet with a genetic counselor. A genetic counselor can help patients determine if genetic testing would be helpful, as many genetic mutations may not reveal concrete steps that affect treatment.
Getting genetic testing can affect patients’ levels of anxiety, and fear for the future, so it is important to take time either before or after the test to speak with medical professions who can help explain the statistics and information shown in a genetic test. Advanced testing of cancer cells may not be recommended by genetic counselors depending on the type of cancer, so it is important to speak with a patient’s medical team before determining treatment options.
Consider speaking with a professional about fear, anxiety, or stress connected to genetic testing. Some people diagnosed with cancer also join support groups, to connect with others who have had similar genetic tests. We also have many podcasts available with experts in the field discussing some of the benefits of genetics and genomic testing.