Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center

Will Genetic Testing for Cancer Be a Good Move?

Should I Sign Up for Genetic Testing?

Are you the right candidate for genetic testing? Take 5 minutes to answer these questions.

genetic testing
Find out if genetic testing may be a good fit for you.

Learning that someone in your family was diagnosed with cancer can be upsetting and scary, not only because you’re concerned about your loved one but also because it can raise fears about your own health or the health of your children. Although some cancers are a result of gene mutations passed down through families, only about 5% to 10% of all cancers are inherited, according to the American Cancer Society. 

If you’re concerned about the possibility of an inherited cancer syndrome, a risk assessment with a genetic counselor can help you determine if genetic testing makes sense for you. Genetic testing may help you and your physician take proactive steps for disease prevention and early detection.

“Depending on the type of cancer risk, you may be eligible for earlier, more frequent surveillance and other cancer risk-reduction options,” says Sara Pirzadeh-Miller, Certified Genetic Counselor and Assistant Director of Cancer Genetics at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

Answer these questions to find out if you should more strongly consider genetic counseling.

Part 1: Answer the following questions about your family history.

  • Was your relative’s cancer diagnosed at a young age?
  • Does the relative who has cancer have more than one type of primary cancer?
  • Does your relative have cancer in a pair of organs, such as both kidneys, eyes, or breasts?
  • Was a relative’s cancer an unusual or rare type? 
  • Do you have more than one relative with the same type of cancer on the same side of the family?

If you answered yes to one or more of the questions, you might want to consider genetic counseling, according to the American Cancer Society. “Keep in mind that relatives might have cancer without having a genetic component,” Pirzadeh-Miller says. Certain risk factors like smoking, exposure to secondhand smoke, and obesity might be linked to the type of cancer that your family members have in common. A genetic counseling session will help you understand everything you need to know if you are considering genetic testing.

Part 2: Was your family member’s cancer any of the following?

  • Breast
  • Ovarian
  • Endometrial
  • Male breast
  • Colorectal
  • Medullary thyroid 
  • Pheochromocytoma/Paraganglioma
  • Stomach
  • Kidney
  • Pancreatic
  • Brain
  • Leukemia
  • Sarcoma
  • Advanced prostate cancer

If the cancer was one of those listed and you also answered yes to one or more of the questions in part 1, you may want to consider genetic counseling. The presence of one of the listed cancers in a family member might indicate an inherited cancer syndrome. Examples include hereditary breast and ovarian cancer (HBOC, caused by mutations in BRCA1/BRCA2 genes), Lynch syndrome, Cowden syndrome, and Li-Fraumeni syndrome. Get more information on these and other inherited cancer syndromes.

Part 3: Do you have biological children? 

Your answer to this question may affect your decision on whether to seek genetic counseling and testing. “Choosing to go ahead with genetic testing is a deeply personal decision,” Pirzadeh-Miller says. The results may influence the way you advocate for your children in health care settings. Talk to your physician about your family medical history and risk factors to help you decide whether genetic counseling and testing is a path you should consider. Additionally, genetic testing is not as expensive as it once was, with out-of-pocket payment typically around $250.

Pirzadeh-Miller points out that direct-to-consumer genetic tests you can purchase online might not provide the same information that clinical genetic tests do. “More and more people are coming to our clinic thinking they had comprehensive genetic testing,” she says. “If you’re planning to pursue any kind of genetic testing through online vendors, it’s important to figure out what you’re getting and what you’re not. Talk to a doctor, genetic counselor, or clinician. There are so many different test options.”

To contact the UTSW cancer genetics team with questions or to set up an appointment (no clinician referral necessary), please email cancergenetics@utsw.edu or call 214-645-2563.