The majority of people don’t carry hereditary cancer genes. However, some do, and if you were at an increased risk of developing cancer in your lifetime, would you want to know? Your first response to the question might be that you think it’s better not to know. However, if knowing about an increased risk meant you could take steps to protect yourself and your family, would you still feel that way?
Protecting yourself against cancer
Finding out that you are at increased risk of cancer can be frightening. However, it can also be empowering as it enables you to take proactive steps for yourself and your family to minimise that risk.
Four in every 10 cancers* could be prevented and there are things you can do to reduce your risk. For example, you may choose to quit smoking, eat a healthy balanced diet, cut back on alcohol, take more exercise or take care to protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays.
Did you know that not smoking is the best thing you can do to reduce your chances of developing cancer? Most of us probably understand this but we might choose to ignore expert advice, thinking “it won’t happen to me”. Maybe knowing that you are at higher risk of cancer might be the impetus you need to finally quit smoking. In the same way, we know that maintaining a healthy weight is beneficial to our health and wellbeing but many of us still don’t achieve the five-a-day target and we eat too much-refined sugar or processed foods. Eating a better diet can not only reduce your risk of cancer, but it will also cut the chances of developing other serious diseases and help you to look and feel better.
And it’s not just making lifestyle changes that can help to reduce your cancer risk. In some cases, your doctor may be able to prescribe medication, such as tamoxifen or raloxifene, to lower the chances of developing the disease. You may benefit from more regular screening for certain types of cancer, or screening from a younger age. This will help to give you peace of mind and can also detect the signs of cancer early when it is most treatable.
More than 9 out of 10 people who are diagnosed with bowel cancer at its earliest stage will survive the disease for five years or longer, compared with just one in 10 people who are diagnosed in the later stages. Catching the condition early really does save lives.
Parents, siblings and children of those who have an increased risk of cancer are also at a higher risk. They may have up to a 50% chance of carrying the same genetic mutation as you. Knowing your own risk may encourage them to undergo testing so that they can also take steps to protect their health.
Genetic testing for cancer
It is not possible to determine your risk of every type of cancer, but genetic testing allows you to check for some hereditary cancers, which are those that are passed down through families. Using a simple saliva test, Myogenes can test 98 separate genes and 25 types of hereditary cancer. It is one of the most comprehensive tests on the market.
When there is an inherited mutation in certain genes it can put you at increased risk of cancer. The risk can be significantly higher in some cases, as shown below. By having a genetic test, you will understand your own unique risk of hereditary cancer.
Having a positive test does not mean you will definitely go on to develop cancer, however, it means that you are at greater risk than most of the population.
We recommend talking to your GP or consultant if you have a positive test so you can decide on the best way of managing your risk.
Frequently asked questions
What can be diagnosed with genetic tests?
Genetic testing can be used to diagnose or rule out a range of genetic diseases, including certain types of cancer. They are often used when certain symptoms indicate that you might have a particular condition.
Genetic tests can also be used to assess your risk of the disease in the future, particularly if you are in a high-risk group, or have a family history of the condition. It is important to note in these cases that this is not a diagnosis, but more a risk-assessment to help you take preventative action to minimise your risk via lifestyle choices, earlier screening and finding the right support.
Why are mutations dangerous?
Genetic mutations stop the gene from functioning properly and this can lead to illness, which can be serious. Knowing you have a genetic mutation can enable you to take steps to protect yourself, such as making lifestyle changes or having regular screening.
For more information about our Hereditary Cancer test, contact the team who are happy to answer your questions.
*Cancer Research UK