What Are The Benefits Of Genetic Testing For Cancer?

The risk of developing any type of cancer varies from person to person. However, you may be at a higher risk of developing certain types of cancer if you have an inherited gene variant compared to someone who doesn’t.

Around 5% to 20% of all cancers start from an inherited genetic mutation, with breast, ovarian, colorectal and prostate cancer, in particular, being strongly influenced by genes.

If you have several family members who have had cancer, especially first-degree relatives (a parent, sibling or child), genetic testing can be used to look for any gene variants that may increase your risk of developing cancer.

There are pros and cons to genetic testing for cancer, and it’s important to consider them all before you go ahead with testing. In this article, we explore the advantages and disadvantages of genetic testing so that you can make a safe and informed decision. 

How do genetic tests for cancer work?

Your genes are responsible for controlling how quickly your cells grow, how often they divide and how long they live, as well as how they develop and work. Certain variations in your genes can cause cells to behave abnormally, which can lead to cancer. 

If you are a carrier of these genes, you may be at a higher risk of developing certain types of cancer. You can read more on how genetic mutations cause cancer here.

By analysing a sample of your blood or saliva, genetic testing identifies changes in your genes, chromosomes or proteins, that could result in cancer. 

Genetic testing cannot be used to diagnose cancer but does provide an estimated chance that you will develop cancer in your lifetime so that you are aware of your risk. 

What are the pros and cons of having a genetic test for cancer?

Genetic testing is a very personal decision and there are a number of reasons why you may or may not choose to have genetic testing. 

It’s a complex decision that should be made after taking plenty of time to consider your choice, and you should always seek guidance from a healthcare team and a genetic counsellor before having testing done.

Pros of genetic testing

The main advantage of genetic cancer testing is that it gives you a clear indication of your personal risk for developing certain types of cancer.

If your risk is found to be higher than the average person, this may prompt you to have more regular screenings than is standard. This can help ensure that if you do develop cancer, it is diagnosed in the early stages where it is most treatable and the survival rate is higher.

Knowing your risk may also encourage you to make healthy lifestyle changes such as stopping smoking, exercising more regularly and eating a balanced diet, to help lower your chances of developing cancer.  

If your risk is particularly high, your GP or healthcare team may also discuss medical options with you such as taking certain medications or having risk-reducing surgery.

Cons of genetic testing

Although there are no physical risks to genetic cancer testing, a positive result can cause mental strain, which you should consider before getting tested. 

For some people, discovering that they are carriers of faulty genes can cause them to have anxiety about their health and a constant feeling that they may one day develop cancer. If you are found to carry a gene mutation, you will need to tell your close family members. This can be difficult and for some people causes feelings of dread or guilt. These feelings can be difficult to cope with, so it’s important to seek support if you need it. 

If you have private insurance or are looking to take out a policy, it’s important to know that you may be asked about your family history and any genetic testing you’ve had done. Although the Association of British Insurers (ABI) and the Government have agreed that there is no obligation to share genetic test results with private insurers, insurance companies are still at liberty to ask you the question. If you encounter issues with an insurance company, you can make a complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service.

Another thing to consider is that while genetic testing is highly accurate, there are cases where results are inconclusive. This means that a gene variation has been identified, but it’s not clear what effect it may have on your cancer risk.

How much do genetic tests for cancer cost?

You may be eligible for free genetic testing through the NHS if a faulty gene has already been identified in one of your relatives, or if there is a strong family history of cancer in your family. If this is the case, you will need to be referred to your local genetics service by your GP. 

If you’re worried about your personal risk but are not eligible for testing through the NHS, you may choose to have genetic testing done privately. Read more about who should consider genetic testing here.

Prices can vary widely from hundreds to thousands of pounds for private genetic testing. Many clinics will also charge extra for genetic counselling, which is critical to have before testing to ensure you are aware of all the advantages and disadvantages, and how the results could impact your life. 

At Check4Cancer, we provide fast and accurate genetic testing for breast, bowel, ovarian and prostate cancer, with a one-hour consultation with a genetic specialist included in all pricing. We also provide single-site testing which looks for a particular familial gene variant that has already been identified in a family member. 

Genetic cancer testing with Check4Cancer

Whether you have a family history of cancer or are worried about your personal risk, we can provide expert genetic testing and advice from £630.

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 Book an appointment today to discuss your options with one of our experts.