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Breast Cancer and Genetic Testing

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Counseling is required before undergoing genetic testing for breast cancer. During this educational counseling session, a health care provider will fully explain the benefits and risks of genetic testing and answer any questions you may have.

You will also be required to sign a consent form prior to participating in genetic testing. The form is an agreement between you and your health care provider, showing that you have discussed the tests and understand how the test results might affect you and your family.

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Here are some questions to consider when thinking about genetic testing:

  • Am I prepared to cope with the result? Are my family members also prepared, including my children and my spouse?
  • What are my goals for testing?
  • How would I use my test results? What will I do differently if the results are positive, or if they are negative?
  • Whom will I share my results with?
  • Would a positive test result change relationships with my family?

What Happens During Genetic Testing?

You'll need to obtain a family pedigree to determine if there is a cancer development pattern within your family. A family pedigree is a chart that shows the genetic makeup of a person's ancestors, and is used to analyze inherited characteristics or diseases within a family.

After outlining the family pedigree, a blood test will be performed to determine if you have a breast cancer gene. Keep in mind that the vast majority of breast cancer cases are not associated with a breast cancer gene. In addition, scientists do not know all of the genes that can cause breast cancer, so doctors can only test you for the known genes.

When someone with a cancer diagnosis and a family history of the disease has been tested and found to have an altered BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, the family is said to have a "known mutation." If an association between the development of breast cancer and a breast cancer gene is made, then all family members willing to participate in genetic testing are asked to give a sample of blood. For many people, knowing their test results is important because this information may help to guide future health care decisions for themselves and their families.

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