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Cancer Answers columnist: Natalie Williams

QUESTION: Is genetic testing right for me?

Cancer is a condition triggered by mutations (changes) in the genes of a cell that result in uncontrolled abnormal cell growth. Some families have gene mutations that are passed down from one generation to the next. Family history, including both maternal and paternal sides, is the most important piece of information that can help a health care provider determines whether you are at risk of carrying a gene mutation.

Genetic testing can help you make informed decisions about how to manage future risks of cancer. If you test positive for a gene mutation, your lifetime risk for cancer is higher. If you have been diagnosed with cancer, some tests might also help determine if you are at a greater risk of developing the same cancer again or of developing another type of cancer. For example, if you are a woman who has breast cancer and you find out that you have an inherited risk, you may be at an increased risk for developing ovarian cancer. However, wherever you are on the spectrum of genetic testing, there are options available for lowering your cancer risk and for detecting cancer at an earlier more treatable stage.

Today, experts recommend that genetic testing for cancer risk should be strongly considered when someone has a personal or family history that suggests an inherited cancer risk condition and we can ensure test results can be both adequately interpreted as well as provide essential information that will guide a person’s future care. It is strongly recommended that any person considering genetic testing for hereditary risk of cancer speak with a professional trained in genetics before deciding to be tested.

A few facts to remember:

  • A positive genetic test result does not guarantee that you will have cancer, but it does mean that you are at higher risk for developing cancer.
  • A negative genetic test result does not mean that you will never have cancer.
  • Your risk for cancer depends not only on your genetic test result but also on other factors such as family history and environmental influences.

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If you have questions about genetic testing and want more information, join us Feb. 20 at 4 p.m. in the Mission Hope Conference Center for a free community talk led by certified genetic counselor Whitney Ducaine. She will cover everything you need to know before you take a DNA test and debunk the common myths and questions surrounding genetic testing. Since space is limited, call 805-219-4673 to make a reservation.

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Your Cancer Answers is a weekly column produced by Marian Regional Medical Center, Cancer Program. Have a question? Email it to

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