Unlocking cancer clues with genetic testing

Genetic testing is a powerful tool in the fight against cancer, playing a crucial role in both prevention and personalized treatment. But what exactly are the different types of genetic tests, and how do they help?

Cancer starts when changes in your DNA cause cells to grow uncontrollably, forming tumors. Most DNA changes occur over a lifetime due to factors like environment and aging, meaning it can take years for enough changes to build up and cause cancer. However, some people are born with genetic variations that make them more prone to these changes, increasing their cancer risk.

Hereditary cancer testing looks at the DNA you were born with, analyzing blood or saliva samples for inherited genetic variations present in all your cells. If you have a personal or family history of certain cancers, hereditary testing can identify variants that might increase your risk. A genetic counselor can help you understand the results and advise on preventive measures like more frequent screenings or lifestyle changes.

Once cancer is diagnosed, biomarker testing (also known as molecular genomic tumor testing or tumor profiling) becomes essential. Unlike hereditary testing, which looks at healthy cells, biomarker testing examines cancer cells to identify the specific genetic and molecular features driving your cancer. This information can help doctors recommend treatments, including immunotherapy, that target these specific biomarkers. While biomarker testing doesn’t always identify a better treatment option, ongoing research continues to increase its effectiveness by finding new biomarkers and therapies.

To discover more information and to learn the right questions to ask your doctor or genetic counselor, visit the JAX biomarker FAQ page.