After a thorough discussion with your genetic counselor, you can decide if genetic testing is right for you. For an individual who has already been diagnosed with cancer, genetic testing may help doctors make the best treatment plan or take proactive steps against developing a second cancer.
For those who have not had cancer, the main goal of genetic testing is to help you and your family members be proactive against cancer. This is done through early or more frequent cancer screenings to detect any abnormalities as soon as possible, or through taking steps to prevent cancer altogether. If a hereditary cancer mutation is identified, genetic testing is offered to family members to determine if others are at increased risk and allow them to be proactive as well.
Genetic testing is usually done on a small blood sample. Sometimes saliva, cells from inside the cheek, or skin cells are used instead. The sample is then sent to a specialized laboratory, which looks for specific inherited changes (mutations) in your genes. Most insurance companies will cover all or a portion of the cost of testing, though individual plans vary.
Not all genetic changes are harmful and no genetic test can say whether you will develop cancer for sure. Your genetic counselor will review your results with you in detail so that you understand your cancer risk and the steps you can take to prevent or catch cancer early.