Genetic testing to prevent cancer | Deccan Herald

Genetic testing estimates genetic risks or predispositions to various diseases based on one’s DNA. Technologically advanced prevention tools like genetic testing can contribute in personalising the healthcare for an individual, thereby, reducing the curative costs on non-communicable diseases like cancer.

As DNA is the blueprint of life, doing a genetic test uncovers an array of genetic information that makes one unique. This may range from knowing about one’s ethnic roots and family tree to their risk for developing various complex health conditions. Some of these tests may also give information related to nutrition, fitness, skincare, habits, and even food preferences, based on their genetic make-up. It lets them personalize everything according to what suits them the best. 

Considering a case that one opts for a direct-to-consumer genetic test, they receive a detailed report based on their DNA which majorly helps to:

Understand their genetic makeup

Personalise their lifestyle by making changes in diet and fitness plans

Delay or prevent the onset of diseases by observing relevant symptoms, following a healthy lifestyle and planning regular health checkups

Around 5 to 10% of cancer cases are hereditary in nature and are passed down across generations. Inheriting a genetic variant linked to a particular cancer or a spectrum of cancers from either of the parents makes the person much more likely to develop that cancer.

Cancers like breast, ovarian, colorectal, prostate, and endometrial occasionally run in the family.  However, it is important to realise most cancers are related to a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, and unhealthy dietary habits, which means that a significant proportion of cancer cases can be prevented through correct and timely intervention.  Cancer is a critical illness that causes trauma and out-of-pocket expenses for the family.

Prior knowledge about genetic risk for certain cancers can help in devising a focused screening strategy that may facilitate prevention and early detection thereby reducing the emotional and financial stress related to cancers. An increased level of awareness and education about early detection can effectively contribute to curbing cancer incidences. 

Personalised genetic testing analyses an individual’s genome at various positions that help scientists identify specific genetic variants that are linked with the disease. Genetic testing may involve a play of highly advanced technology and analytical minds at the background, but for the user, it is a simple process – mostly done through saliva or blood sample. The reports outline the diseases and traits that an individual is predisposed to. Post the reporting procedure, a genetic counsellor recommends lifestyle changes based on your genetic test report and your medical & family history. Different types of genetic test are available in the market which makes it important to understand the nature of information gained from each type of test so that you choose the right test which may provide the answers to your questions. Individuals who are at increased risk for developing certain cancers because of family history should opt for a specific clinical genetic test. 

Genetic testing very beautifully completes the circle of prevention. If an individual has a genetic risk towards developing a disease, she/he can avoid or delay the onset of the disease by making proper dietary and fitness modifications as per their genetic code. Additionally, the genetic counsellor helps in personalizing the required health checkups and their timelines as per the need. 

(The writer is Joint Managing Director and Preventive Healthcare Specialist at a hospital)

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