How can gene testing help to treat and prevent cancer?

How can gene testing help to treat and prevent cancer?

Gene testing is getting faster and cheaper. Tests can be carried out at a fraction of the cost, in a fraction of the time, compared to just a few years ago. These improvements mean far more people with cancer will be able to benefit from a genetic test.

But how can gene testing actually help those affected with cancer and their families?

It is very important to know if a mutation in a person’s genetic blueprint has caused their cancer. It allows more personalised treatment, for example such people are often at risk of getting another cancer and may choose to have more comprehensive surgery, or may need different medicines, or extra monitoring. It also improves the information available for relatives about their own cancer risks. Sometimes a relative is found to have an increased risk of cancer and screening or preventative measures can be employed. Just as frequently, testing provides the reassuring news that a relative is not at increased risk of cancer and does not need interventions.

Importantly, identifying cancer predisposition gene mutations provides an opportunity to prevent cancers. For example, about 1,000 women in the UK develop ovarian cancer each year because they have a gene mutation. If this was known before they got cancer, many may have chosen to have their ovaries removed by keyhole surgery after completing their families. Identifying people with cancer due to gene mutations and offering testing to their relatives is a very effective way of helping people at highest risk of cancer before they develop the disease.

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