With a 2013 Supreme Court decision prompting several insurance companies to cover it completely, the simple blood screening for genetic mutations that can lead to cancer is more accessible. Based on family history of cancers, a primary care doctor may refer a man or woman to see a genetic counselor to decide whether to test. MetroHealth Medical Center oncologist Paul Hergenroeder tells us three things to know about the test.
Study your family tree. Those with a family member with breast cancer before 50 or a first-degree family member diagnosed with breast, ovarian or pancreatic cancers should consider testing. Other malignancies in the family may also mean there's a genetic link and should prompt testing. "The close family history of ovarian or male breast cancer is perhaps one of the most straightforward," Hergenroeder says.
Make an informed decision. A positive result means an up to 87 percent risk for breast cancer and an up to 45 percent risk of ovarian cancer. But it can lead to prevention and early detection. "The treatment options are proven to help save lives," Hergenroeder says. The maximum way to reduce risk for those with positive results is to have their breasts or ovaries removed. If a woman isn't ready, she can get a yearly MRI and mammogram.
Share the results. If breast or ovarian cancer patients test positive, it's important to discuss it with family members since their risks increase. If a mother is positive, it means her daughter or sister has a 50 percent chance of being positive. "[Also,] if you have a first-degree relative who has passed from breast [or ovarian] cancer, you should ask your primary care doctor if the test is appropriate," Hergenroeder says.