Genetic testing involves analyzing samples from a simple blood test or cheek swab to look for genetic mutations linked to cancer. Testing positive for a BRCA mutation does not indicate the level of risk a person has for breast, ovarian, prostate, or colon cancer, explains cancer genetics expert Kenneth Offit. Researchers are studying several additional genetic markers that may affect the risk of breast cancer due to a BRCA mutation.
Genetic counseling plays an important role in helping people determine whether genetic testing is appropriate, says genetic counselor Emily Glogowski. Genetic counselors make recommendations based on a person’s family history of cancer and a variety of other indicators, such as the age at which family members were diagnosed with cancer.
Genetic testing is usually reserved for adults with a significant chance of having a genetic mutation that increases cancer risk, including people from families or ethnic groups that are known to have a genetic mutation. Breast cancer screening with MRI is recommended for women who have a BRCA mutation. There is no effective genetic screening method for ovarian cancer, however.