Lower Your Cancer Risk by Knowing Your Genetics
Your genetic makeup is comprised from half your mother and half from your father. We all know the makeup is responsible for hair and eye color. However, it is much more expansive than simple genetic traits. Your family tree, the genetics that make you, you, are more understood each passing day. These advancements in understanding include inherited diseases such as cancer. Today, up to 15 percent of cancers are tied to a hereditary link. Knowing about them may help you prevent or reduce your risk of cancer.
The experts at Baptist Health of South Florida’s Lynn Cancer Institute and Miami Cancer Institute recently raised awareness of the value of genetic assessment and testing. Researchers, doctors, and scientists have identified numerous genetic mutations that increase the cancer risks of breast, gynecologic, colon, gastro-intestinal, prostate, and many more cancers. Furthermore, because of the rapid pace of genetic research and accompanying understanding, these discoveries may impact everything from guidelines for cancer screens to treatment options for those who have cancer.
Information is the Key: Understand Your Cancer Risk
“The more accurate our information, the better our guidance on prevention,” says Louise Morrell, M.D., a cancer genetics specialist and medical director of Lynn Cancer Institute. “In genetics, unlike other areas, the benefit extends to family members and perhaps for generations to come.”
Researchers, doctors, and scientists have worked for decades to uncover the link between genetic mutations and variations and the cancer these mutations can cause. The public knowledge of the case for genetic testing started to grow in 2013 when actress Angelina Jolie has her breasts removed, and then her ovaries removed in 2015. Genetic testing concluded she carried the BRCA1 gene mutation that is linked to higher risk of breast and ovarian cancers.
The same BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations that raise the risk of breast cancer in women, also raise the odds of breast cancer in men by eight times, according to the American Cancer Society, and increase the chances of prostate cancer. Angelina Jolie’s mother, grandmother, and aunt had all died from cancer. Her decision to prophylactically remove her breasts, ovaries and fallopian tubes to lower her cancer risk came after multiple tests and conversations with her doctors. In addition to Ms. Jolie’s public sharing of her story, technological advances have made it possible to test for more genes, sped up testing and made it less expensive. The answers from genetic testing can also help drive treatment and surgery decisions in someone already diagnosed with cancer.
Knowing Where Your Genes Come From
It’s not only your mother’s history you must be aware of, however, says Arelis Mártir-Negrόn, M.D., medical geneticist and head of the Clinical Genetics program at Miami Cancer Institute. “As many men pass down mutations as women. That means you should be as aware of your father’s family’s cancer history as your mother’s. Know your family history. Ask questions.” We all know we inherit our DNA from our mother and father. What you may not know is, we inherit two copies of each gene from our mother and father. Variations in genes are completely normal, actually these variations are what provide the great diversity in the human population. Thinking of genetics as a recipe or blueprint, may help some people better understand, genetic counselors say. Any of the bakers reading this, know that a slight change in an recopy may not make a noticeable difference, but the wrong ingredient or too much or too little of something, can change the recipe drastically.
Two articles published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine highlight the risk of cancer associated with specific genes tested in large populations. The research is important, says Dr. Morrell, because not every gene mutation carries the same risk. “A BRCA mutation might lead to an 80 percent risk of breast cancer but an ATM mutation might have a 20 percent lifetime risk,” she says. “These are very different, which is why having this information is so valuable.”
Should you consider cancer genetic screening (CGx Testing)? Understanding your cancer risk can be very easy. In addition to seeing more men ― who don’t often come for genetic assessment and sometimes don’t understand the implications for their family members ― the doctors would especially like people to consider assessment if you:
- Several first-degree relatives (mother, father, sisters, brothers, children) with cancer.
- Many relatives on one side of the family who have had the same type of cancer.
- A cluster of cancers in your family that are known to be linked to a single gene mutation (such as breast, ovarian and pancreatic cancers in your family).
- A family member with more than 1 type of cancer.
- A family member with a rare cancer such as breast cancer in a male or retinoblastoma.
- Ethnicity (for example Jewish ancestry is linked to ovarian and breast cancers).
- A physical finding that’s linked to an inherited cancer (such as having many colon polyps).
- A known genetic mutation in one or more family members who have already had genetic testing.
- Close relatives with cancers that are linked to rare hereditary cancer syndromes.
Couples who have a family history of cancer and are considering pregnancy also frequently take advantage of genetic assessment. “If you really want to be able to tell your children they are not at risk to have a particular mutation, you need to test both parents,” Dr. Morrell says. “The offspring can only inherit a mutation that the parents have. Mutations do not skip a generation and move from grandparent to grandchild without the parent inheriting it.”
What does this mean for you?
Identify your breast cancer risks through genetic tests. Genetic testing can further the information on the genes you or a loved one carry. Research shows that genetic testing can help your provider recommend more precise treatment options. Genetic testing can also help you determine whether you (or your loved one) are at an increased risk for cancer and how to improve the prognosis.
Vita Medical Solutions is proud to partner with laboratories to facilitate access to advanced hereditary cancer (CGx) genetic testing.
Learn more about your personal and family genetic makeup and personalized medicine options through our genetic test offerings. Read more specifically about CGx testing here:
With qualifying insurance, this test can cost you nothing out of pocket. Click below to schedule a call with one of Vita Medical’s Patient Services Consultants to find out your eligibility.
Call us 1.800.590.9292 (toll free) or email at [email protected].
Test. Know. Educate. Advocate.
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This article is available in Spanish: https://baptisthealth.net/baptist-health-news/es/reduzca-su-riesgo-para-el-cancer-conociendo-su-genetica/?cat=educacion