Genetic testing may be useful for identifying people at risk for developing certain cancers. It can also help determine treatments for some types of cancer.
The fields of genetic testing and genomics (study of the entire gene sequence) are changing very quickly. Scientists discover and share new information about genes and cancer just about every week. Some of the new information is useful immediately but much still needs more research before it is applicable to today’s medical care.
Your doctor might refer you to our Genetics Department, based on your personal and family medical history, to see if you need genetic testing.
Genes can be tested to find out if you or your family members have higher risks for some types of cancer. Patients with certain cancers may also be tested for specific gene-mutations within tumors. This can help determine if targeted therapies are right for them.
Group Health Genetics Department
At Group Health Medical Centers, our Genetics Department provides both evaluation and testing for inherited risks for diseases. We have offered in-house genetic testing since the 1990s, when these tests first became available.
The team in our Genetics Department works closely with our specialists, especially those in oncology, radiation oncology, surgery, pathology, and obstetrics and gynecology. Genetic counselors and specialists from these departments attend regular meetings to review cancer cases. Our Genetics Department is led by a doctor specially trained in medical genetics.
Genetic Categories of Cancer
Genetic specialists divide cancer into three general categories:
Familial cancers: These cancers appear more often in a family than expected by chance. They are likely due to some inherited factors as well as certain causes in the environment and lifestyle.
Inherited cancers: These cancers arise from a mutation in a specific gene. Inherited cancers are often diagnosed at a younger age than normal. The risk of cancer for a person with an inherited mutation is much higher than for the general population.
Inherited cancers are rare, but important to identify because enhanced cancer screening and prevention strategies can reduce the likelihood of illness and may increase lifespan.
Sporadic cancers: These cancers occur randomly, but at a certain rate in the population. Sporadic cancers are usually diagnosed in a person after age 50 and are a result of aging. They are by far the most common type of cancer.
After genetic testing and interpretation, a genetic counselor will discuss the likelihood of whether cancer is inherited. The counselor can guide patients in making decisions to that can help manage their risk. They can help family members understand their risk as well.