What are the Benefits of Genetic Screening for Cancer?
Genetic screening for cancer can provide patient benefits by allowing people to make informed choices about their health. Patients who know they have an increased cancer risk may take some additional steps to address it, including preventative or preemptive measures. It is also important to consider the risks, including unnecessary medical procedures, changes in relationships with family members, and stress caused by worry about cancer risks.
People with a family history of certain cancers may be at increased risk, and a doctor may recommend genetic screening for cancer. In the test, a technician draws a blood sample and sends it to a lab to check for genes associated with cancer. The test will not provide a simple yes or no answer about whether the patient will get cancer. Instead, it can offer information about statistical risks, like a much higher chance than the general population of experiencing a particular cancer. This can help patients make decisions about medical care.
One benefit to genetic screening for cancer is the early identification of risk so patients can make positive changes to address common cancer risk factors that they can change. Patients may consider changing their lifestyles to reduce cancer risk by exercising more, avoiding toxins, and changing their diets. This will not eliminate any chance of getting cancer, but it can address some common risks and may mean that the patient is less likely to get cancer.
The results of a genetic screening for cancer can also indicate the need for earlier or more frequent cancer screenings. People with mutations in genes associated with breast cancer, for example, might need to start getting screenings earlier in life. This can also carry a risk, as there's a chance of developing cancer from the extra radiation of early mammograms. Patients may also be at risk of unnecessary biopsies and lumpectomies for benign breast lumps. It is advisable to discuss these concerns with a doctor to determine if the overall cancer risk outweighs the risk of these procedures to check for cancer.
Genetic screening for cancer may also prompt a patient to decide to make a direct intervention. If screening reveals increased chances of ovarian cancer, for example, the patient might opt for a prophylactic oophorectomy to remove the ovaries before they have a chance to turn cancerous. Awareness of cancer risk might also lead patients to store eggs or frozen embryos to prepare for the possibility of cancer later in life, or to decide to have children now in case it will not be possible in the future.
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