New testing better predicts the likelihood of developing cancer

Blood tests can identify gene mutations that increase the likelihood of certain types of the disease

FILE - Patient (KXAN File Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — New medical advancements are making it easier to detect and predict certain types of cancer than ever before, but doctors say too many people don’t know their options when it comes to testing for genetic predispositions to the disease. A simple blood test could save some from a life threatening diagnosis years in advance.

“We’re in a really hopeful day and age where we can do our best not just to detect cancer early, but to prevent it from happening,” said Carla McGruder, certified genetic counselor for Austin Cancer Center and Austin Breast Center.

McGruder works with patients every day who don’t have cancer, but worry their family history could mean they’re more susceptible. For years, clinics like the Austin Cancer Center could only test for two types of gene mutations likely to cause breast cancer.

“But we now know that there are several other genes that can also increase the risk of breast cancer,” McGruder said.

A couple of new blood tests can pick up more — up to 18 gene mutations and dozens of other variations in DNA that indicate whether a patient may be at a higher risk.

McGruder also says now a simple test can go beyond just predicting someone’s risk for breast cancer.

“Are we worried about breasts and ovaries, or are we worried about breast and uterus and thyroid?” she said. “Or are we not worried about breast at all? Are we worried about colon cancer?”

McGruder says in a lot of cases, insurance companies will cover the genetic blood testing if someone qualifies as having a family history that shows they could be at risk. If a mutation is detected, McGruder says, insurance companies will generally cover further preventative care.

“That in and of itself is enough where insurance will cover the cost of what we call prophylactic surgery,” she said. “So, doing the preventative side, if that’s removing both breasts, if that’s removing ovaries, if that’s doing breast MRIs every year.”

McGruder admits looking into the future isn’t for everyone.

“They say maybe it’s up to a higher power, and we shouldn’t be doing those things,” she says of some patients. “It really depends on the person, I think when you come you’ll hear that we are not dictating what you do, and we are not at the place where we’re actually changing the genes themselves. We’re just trying to see what you’re already made up of and if that’s going to make sure that you are on this earth a lot longer.”

The Austin Cancer and Breast Centers offer free screenings over the phone and free counseling to determine whether you qualify.

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