At Northside Hospital Cancer Institute, more newly diagnosed cancer cases are diagnosed and treated than anywhere else in Georgia. In an effort to prevent future cancer diagnoses, Northside has expanded its Cancer Genetics Program to Cherokee County, with locations in Canton and Holly Springs.
“Knowledge is power, and genetic testing can be the first step to taking action to prevent cancer,” said Katie Lang, MS, CGC, certified genetic counselor and coordinator of the Cancer Genetics Program at Northside Hospital Cancer Institute.
About ten percent of all cancers are hereditary, which means that some people are born with a broken, or mutated, gene that greatly increases their risk for certain types of cancer. The most well-known examples are the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, but there are dozens of genes that have been discovered and linked to almost every type of cancer.
If, through genetic testing, a mutation in a cancer risk gene is identified, there is a 50 percent chance that an individual’s siblings and children will inherit that mutation. In addition, identifying inherited mutations can open up new options for specially targeted treatment for patients with certain types of cancer.
Northside’s Cancer Genetics Program offers consultations with board-certified genetic counselors who provide a thorough cancer risk assessment and testing for anyone who may be concerned about their personal or family history of cancer.
“It’s important to note that having a mutated gene doesn’t mean you have cancer or will definitely get cancer,” said Lang. “Genetic testing only gives risk information to help you and your family receive the best options as far as screening and other steps to reduce risk.”
During a genetic consultation, one of Northside’s board-certified genetic counselors evaluates the patient’s personal and family history to determine if genetic testing is appropriate. If the patient is a good candidate for testing, the genetic counselor educates and guides the patient through the testing process including cost, insurance coverage and how it impacts their family.
Information that results from genetic testing can help the patient and physician better formulate a plan to treat a previously diagnosed cancer, detect cancer early or prevent it entirely.
Lang says that men should consider genetic testing, too.
“Most of the focus in the past has been on women and breast cancer risk, but 50 percent of those who carry inherited mutations are men, and the vast majority are unaware,” Lang said. “Not only is testing important for their children, but men also face increased cancer risks if they are carriers themselves.”
For example, men with BRCA mutations, the so-called “breast cancer gene” have an increased risk for developing breast cancer and a more aggressive form of prostate cancer, as well as pancreatic cancer.