Predicting Cancer Risk with Genetic Testing: the Basics

Photo: Our grateful thanks to Asai Hatomi on Unsplash.

By Marcel Hernandez, N.D.

Can We Know in Advance if We’ll Get Cancer?

With the present state of predictive technology, we can often get close enough to a correct evaluation of our risk to do something about it.

It’s all about genetics.

Easy Genetics 101

Think of genes as a blueprint, like a guide for building a house. Our genes are composed of DNA and are passed on to us by our parents. They provide the blueprint for characteristics that define our physical appearance, as well as how are body operates in the world.

Dr. Marcel Hernandez, ND

Traits like height, hair, and eye color are determined by our genes. Genes can also help us determine whether we’re likely to develop certain diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, and others.

Because genes are somewhat fragile, they’re subject to mutations – unforeseen changes in the blueprint that can cause cells to grow out of control, leading to cancer and other diseases.

Acquired mutations are those that arise from insults to the body such as exposure to tobacco, chemicals, radiation, etc., as well as lifestyle indulgences that may include sunbathing, alcohol consumption, sugar addiction, and so forth.

Acquired mutations don’t affect all of our cells, only those that grow from the mutated cell. This means that all of the cancer cells will have the mutations, but normal cells will not. Because of this, the mutations aren’t passed on to our children.

Inherited mutations are congenital genetic anomalies that are passed on to us from our parents. Inherited mutations don’t necessarily manifest in disease, but when they do, the mutations will be present in every cell of our body, even the cells without cancer.

What is genetic testing?

Genetic testing includes tests that look for certain mutations in our genes. Its purpose is to look for inherited gene mutations that may put us at risk of getting certain kinds of cancer.

Who should be tested?

Genetic testing is particularly important for people with no known active cancer, but whose families have a strong history of certain types of cancer.

For example, the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are related to an increased risk of breast and other cancers. If a person has this inherited mutation, we can immediately deploy strategies for lowering their risk.

For people already diagnosed with cancer, especially if there are factors that suggest the cancer may have been caused by an inherited mutation (such as a strong family history, or if the cancer was diagnosed at a young age), test results can help other family members decide if they want to be tested for the mutation. Genetic testing may also give us information on which type of therapy may be most effective.

For family members of a person with cancer, or who are known to have an inherited gene mutation that increases cancer risk, testing can guide their lifestyle choices or their need for further testing to lower their risk.

It’s important to be aware that for some types of cancer, no known mutations have been linked to an increased risk. There are also cancer types that may have known mutations, but for which there is presently no way to test for them.

We recently established a relationship with Ambry Genetics and now offer genetic testing. If interested, please contact Dr. Marcel.

For information about the services we offer at Pacific Naturopathic, please give us a call at 650-961-1660, use the convenient Contact Form to get in touch, or follow the link to: Consultations – Pacific Naturopathic. Thank you!