Genetics Frequently Asked Questions
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What is genetic testing for cancer?
Medical discoveries have expanded our understanding of the relationship between cancer and genetics. We know that certain cancers – such as breast, colon, ovarian, melanoma and pancreatic – are more likely to run in families, and we can test for those genetic links. Knowing your cancer risk factors, including genetics, can make an astounding difference in your future health.
Who should have genetic testing for cancer?
Not all cancers are hereditary. However, you should consider genetic education and/or testing and counseling if your family history includes:
- Multiple cases of cancer – especially breast, colon, ovarian, uterine, melanoma, pancreatic or prostate – in the family.
- Individuals with more than one cancer.
- Cancer at an unusually early age.
- A known genetic abnormality in the family.
Identifying risks for developing cancer can lead to prevention, early detection, appropriate care, management and a longer, healthier life.
Is it accurate?
Yes. Laboratory testing for genetic testing reports at >99% accuracy.
When is the right time to have genetic counseling/testing? What prompts it?
Many times a new cancer diagnosis for an individual or in the family prompts genetic counseling and/or testing. However, there are many reasons a person may seek counseling.
What is involved?
The first step is genetic counseling. Information gathered during genetic counseling helps determine if genetic lab testing would be helpful for the patient. Genetic testing is not for everyone; we will help determine if this step is appropriate for you by understanding your family history, discussing screenings and preventative measures, and reviewing the pros and cons of testing. We facilitate the testing process by collecting a small sample of blood or saliva and sending it to a special lab for analysis. Results take approximately three weeks.
Can genetic counseling help patients who have already had cancer?
Some inherited gene changes cause several types of cancer. Genetic counseling and testing may determine if you are at risk for another type of cancer in the future. You can then consider ways to prevent other cancers. Many people with cancer seek genetic counseling and testing to help their relatives. The risk of cancer for your relatives is based on the results of your genetic evaluation.
What would prompt someone to decide taking preventative measures, like getting a mastectomy? At what point would one decide?
We know there are certain genes that increase the risk of developing several types of cancers. Some patients who carry those genes take preventative measures to be proactive in minimizing their risk for developing cancer. This type of decision should be made after a discussion with your doctor weighing the risks, as well as the pros and cons, based on the results of genetic testing.
How common is it that people take preventative measures?
It is very common for people who have a BRCA 1 or 2 gene mutation to take preventive measures. Many times people who are not interested in taking steps to reduce their cancer risks decide against genetic testing.
Would insurance cover genetic testing and/or preventative care for cancer?
Many health plans now cover genetic testing. Once it is determined that testing is appropriate and desired, we can work with you and the lab to gather information about coverage. We will also provide you with information on legislative protections in place to ensure that employers or insurance companies do not discriminate based on genetic test results.
What is the cost associated with genetic counseling/testing?
Genetic counseling is offered free of charge at the Hall-Perrine Cancer Center. Most testing is covered by insurance, Medicare or Medicaid, if patients meet certain criteria. Those without insurance can access financial assistance programs to assist in covering the cost. Patients in our area also have access to the Especially for You® Fund, which helps provide financial assistance for breast care services including genetic testing.
To learn more about Hall-Perrine Cancer Center’s High-Risk Cancer Genetic Services, call (319) 398-6732 or, for scheduling, call (319) 861-7778.
Genetic Services is located in the ReNew Center located on the first floor of the Hall-Perrine Cancer Center.