Genetic Counselor Kimberly Banks shares what she can discover with genetic testing results.
Genetic Counselor Kimberly Banks:
What genetic testing will do is, first of all, the genetic testing is a blood draw. So how the testing itself works is, blood is drawn, sent to a specialty laboratory, the genes of interest or concern are basically proofread to look for a mistake that would make them not work. Everybody has these genes; our question is, “Are yours working or not?” And if they are not, then we see this increased risk for cancer. So that’s the testing part.
The testing needs to be done though in a context where, first of all, you assess what testing to perform through the review of personal and family history, and then when the result comes back, you need to interpret it. A negative doesn’t remove all risk. You still need to look at the personal and family history and determine, “What are the cancer risks?” If it’s not a genetic risk, the various risk.
So what the information means for a patient and their family members is, it helps us quantify the cancer risks and how to take care of them. If we identify something genetic in a patient, we know that her siblings and her children each have a 50:50 risk of having that same genetic mutation. They can be tested for it. Usually with cancer, we talk about testing in young adulthood. We don’t talk about testing children very often.
They can be tested to find out, yes or no. “Did I get it? Did I not get it?” If they didn’t get it, they are in essence divorced from that family history of cancer. They don’t need to do high-risk surveillance. They can do the average surveillance. If they did get it, then they do all the high-risk surveillance. We start screening at a younger age. We screen all the body parts that we know are at elevated risk for cancer.
The testing is negative, we say, “Okay high risk is ruled out for the most part.” We have to interpret it and make sure we believe that, but the majority of the time, we believe a negative test result and then we say, “Okay, you’re not at high-risk; you’re average risk. Your children have some risk. Here is the age they are going to start screening. Here is the body parts we need to screen.” So it really helps us tailor the care for the patient and their family members.
About Kimberly Banks, M.S., C.G.C.:
Kimberly Banks, M.S., C.G.C., is the Program Coordinator and a Genetic Counselor at The Cancer Genetics Program in The Center For Cancer Prevention and Treatment at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, California. Kimberly received her master’s degree in Genetic Counseling from California State University, Northridge, and conducted her fellowship at City of Hope National Medical Center. She is board certified by the American Board of Genetic Counseling.
Visit Kimberly Banks at St. Joseph Hospital Cancer Genetics Program: