Cancer is among the leading causes of deaths worldwide. In the United States alone, over 1.7 million new cases are expected to be diagnosed in 2018, and more than half a million people will perish from the disease. Although medical advances are slowing down the cancer death rate in the United States, it is unarguable that an early cancer diagnosis is often what makes the difference between patients having a positive or manageable outcome, or succumbing to the disease.
Beyond its applications in cancer treatment, technology has also allowed an explosion of cancer research to be conducted. Some of the most promising research revolves around testing an individual’s DNA (or deoxyribonucleic acid) for genetic “red flags” which might suggest the development of cancer at a later stage in life.
What’s The Difference Between Genetic & Genomic Testing?
Assessing an individual’s DNA is one of the most effective diagnostic strategies as DNA contains all the biological instructions for our growth, reproduction and other physiological processes. In other words, DNA can be considered as the “instruction manual” on how to build and maintain a human being. Unfortunately, just as in real life, you might find “typos” (errors) in your genetic code which can lead to specific diseases, such as cancer.
Once one understands the genetic “typos” that lead to cancer, the next step would be to look for those errors in DNA. This is where genetic testing comes in. Broadly speaking, there are two types of DNA testing: genetic and genomic:
Genetic testing usually refers to tests which only look at a single gene or combination of genes to look for a very specific genetic disorder. On the other hand, genomic testing includes the assessment of the entire genome (which contains more than 25,000 different genes). Although the terms sound very similar, they take very different perspectives and selecting the right test will depend on what you’re trying to assess.
Cancer Runs In My Family: Should I Be Concerned?
Because part of your DNA is passed down with every generation, many diseases are known to “run in the family”, and cancer is one of them. Although research has demonstrated that a small amount of cancers (between 5% to 10%) are considered “hereditary”, cancer can also be acquired via random genetic mutations or exposure to particular environmental factors (such as smoking or exposure to radiation).
Many experts recommend genetic testing for cancer to be considered when there is a family history of cancer or the likelihood that certain environmental factors could have affected your development in a harmful way (e.g. someone who smoked or was exposed to tobacco or cigarettes regularly).
Even if someone does not have a history of cancer in their family, or considers themselves “healthy”, it is important to recognize that cancer is unfortunately a very common disease – according to the American Cancer Society’s 2019 research, a little more than 1 out of every 3 individuals might be diagnosed with cancer during their lifetime.
How Can I Be Proactive Against Cancer?
With the ease and convenience of modern DNA testing, individuals can now assess their current and future health prospects with little to no risk. With a wide variety of DIY or “at home” DNA testing kits available, it is critical for individuals to understand how to choose the test that’s meant for them.
One comprehensive cancer screening test available on the marketplace is CGX, designed by BitCare, a leading provider in genomics. The CGX test uses a small blood or saliva sample to analyze a person’s genetic material for hereditary cancer risk. After the sample is received and analyzed, on average, test results are ready within 30 to 45 days.
The collected data then gets translated into an easy-to-understand report, which can be used by the individual to understand their future health risks or to create a personalized health management plan alongside their medical provider. The CGX test is recommended for individuals who have at least several relatives diagnosed with the same type of cancer or those with relatives diagnosed with cancer at an early age (younger than age 50). Also, people who have been personally diagnosed with cancer or have cancer in their family for several generations might benefit from taking the test.
A final consideration for individuals seeking DNA testing for cancer – Although most tests might assess for the same types of cancers, it is important to research other key benefits the testing provider might offer. For example, with the CGX test, BitCare is able to offer individuals up to two consultations with a Genetic Counselor. These specialized counselors can help discuss potential results before the DNA test, and also help people understand their results. These consultations can be extremely valuable, especially when potentially screening for major diseases, such as cancer.