About one in every 10 to 20 cancers are believed to arise from hereditary genetic factors.
Mutations are often uncovered after a cancer diagnosis raises flags, as in Kimberly Tonyan’s case. Patients can increase their chance of early discovery by making sure they’ve talked to their primary care doctor about family cancer history, said Tonyan’s oncologist, Dr. Matt McDonald. If several close relatives have been diagnosed at early ages and/or had similar types of cancer, that doctor might refer the patient to a genetic counselor.
A counselor would study the family history and discuss the pros and cons of genetic screening. A good candidate for testing has to be psychologically ready to deal with a high-risk diagnosis and take preventive action, such as frequent cancer screening and even surgery, says genetic counselor Christen Csuy.
The federal Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act forbids health insurance companies and most employers to penalizesomeone for genetic testing results. But Csuy said a high-risk diagnosis can affect eligibility or rates for life insurance and long-term care coverage.
For details about genetic testing from the American Cancer Society, go to www.cancer.org and search for the term.