Is it all in our genes?
Almost all cancers (expect a few) are driven or caused genetically. Cancers are either somatic or inherited. Somatic cancer occurs due to genetic changes in our body arising from external factors such as diet, environment, smoking, exposure to radiation etc. In a few cases, people are born with a gene mutation that they inherited. This damaged gene increases the risk of cancer. This is referred to as hereditary cancer.
How do rogue genes work?
"When people inherit an abnormality, the genes don’t function normally and the risk of cancer increases.... Genetic testing helps in understanding the risk."
Inherited cases of breast cancer are linked to two abnormal genes: BRCA1 and BRCA2. Everyone has BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. They help repair cell damage, and keep breast, ovarian and other cells growing normally. When abnormalities (or mutations) in these are inherited, the genes don’t function normally, and the risk for breast, ovarian and other cancer risk increases. Having the gene doesn’t mean they have cancer. It just means the risk is higher.
Should one take a gene test?
Genetic counselling and testing are extremely helpful in understanding the risks one might face. Genetic tests are prescribed by doctors today. However, with awareness, more patients are proactively seeking these tests since they are also related to early screening and prevention.
What does a test do?
It will essentially tell them if they have a defective gene, which may not necessarily cause cancer but does increase their risk compared to others. Someone who has a strong family history of cancer, or one who is generally anxious about the risk of developing cancer, can talk to a genetic counsellor.
How does one prepare for a test?
Genetic tests are fairly simple to do. All you need is a blood or saliva sample. There are easy collection methods. It is important to go through genetic counselling to avoid panic and addressing fears. Based on the sessions, individuals are categorised according to risk: high, moderate or low-risk. This allows them to make an informed choice while opting for the tests.