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Genetic Testing for Hereditary Cancer: Can It Help You?

By EmpowHER January 18, 2013 - 7:00am
Sponsored By Myriad

Genetic testing helps predict the likelihood that a person will develop a disease, including some cancer types. With more than 900 genetic tests now available for many different diseases, including breast, ovarian, colon, thyroid and other cancers, many people are considering genetic testing as one way to take more control of their health.

Some people undergoing genetic testing say cancer has played a significant role in their life and they want to take every precaution to make sure that it doesn’t happen to them.

However, it’s also natural to have many questions before being tested for hereditary cancer. It’s a very important decision with personal implications, so having a complete understanding of the risks and benefits will make the experience more meaningful.

Testing can provide you and your doctor with valuable information to devise cancer prevention strategies, including personalized screenings and anti-cancer medications. Keep in mind however, getting a positive test result doesn’t mean you will get cancer, and a negative test doesn’t mean you won’t develop the disease in the future. However, it does tell you whether you are at a significantly increased risk of getting cancer.

Many individuals considering genetic testing often raise privacy concerns. They worry about sharing positive test results with immediate relatives, and whether they might face discrimination by employers or insurance companies.

It’s important to raise your concerns with your doctor or genetic counselor during your risk assessment appointment and find out under what circumstances your test result will be disclosed to third parties.

However, you should know in 2008, the U.S. Congress passed the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) to help ease concerns about discrimination that might keep some people from getting genetic tests that could benefit their health. The law protects people from discrimination by health insurers and employers on the basis of DNA information, but doesn’t cover life insurance, disability insurance and long-term care insurance.

Under the law, it’s illegal for health insurance companies to deny coverage or charge an individual a higher insurance rate because of genetic test results. Likewise, it is illegal for your employer to use family health history or genetic tests when making employment decisions.

GINA also makes it unlawful for an employer to request, require or purchase genetic information of a potential or current employee, or his or her family members. However, there are a few exceptions to when an employer can legally have your genetic information. If an employer does have the genetic information of an employee, the employer must keep it confidential and in a separate medical file.

Many states have also passed laws against genetic discrimination, though these laws vary widely from state to state. The federal law sets a minimum standard of protection that must be met in all states, but doesn’t weaken the protections provided by any state law.

Your doctor or genetic counselor can review your rights and privacy information with you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, or tell him or her if you don’t understand the law.

To learn more about genetic testing for heredity cancer and if it’s right for you, please visit www.mysupport360.com/

Reviewed on December 7, 2012
by Maryann Gromisch, RN
Edited by Jody Smith

Article by Lynette Summerill

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