Update from the National Society of Genetic Counselors Conference

Cancer gene panels were a hot topic at the recent National Society of Genetic Counselors conference in Anaheim, California. The annual educational conference is a chance for genetic counselors to learn about the latest developments in the field, discuss these developments as they relate to genetic counseling, how they affect our patients, and how they are integrated into clinical practice

Cancer gene panels are the newest genetic testing technology and allow for much cheaper and faster testing of multiple genes at the same time. Cancer gene panels introduce a new level of complexity and both advantages and challenges for genetic counselors and their patients. Using cancer gene panels, an individual with a personal or family history of cancer will no longer necessarily be tested for one gene, or one hereditary cancer syndrome. Depending on your family history, a gene panel testing for mutations in multiple genes may be appropriate for you.

Many women and families are often surprised and frustrated when there is a strong family history of cancer, but BRCA testing is negative and does not provide an answer for the pattern in their family. Though it can seem that the cancers in the family are hereditary, the description does not quite fit the classic Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer syndrome, or other known hereditary cancer syndromes. Maybe there’s an early onset colon cancer or a string of early onset breast cancers running through the family that have not been explained. Or maybe there is breast cancer and other types of early onset cancer running through the family. Whatever the situation may be, a BRCA test alone can leave people feeling empty-handed in preparing for their own health and that of their family, whereas a cancer gene panel may be able to offer the explanation they seek.

While there can be many advantages to using the cancer gene panel, the panel comes with challenges and is not recommended for everyone. Genetic counselors are still evaluating the use of these panels and how to interpret results for their patients. At the conference, many genetic counselors discussed the factors that need to be evaluated when considering ordering a panel for a patient. Some of these include: family history of the patient, technology used in the lab, which genes are included on the panel, cost, turn-around time, and insurance coverage.

We will discuss cancer gene panels and many other developments in our upcoming teleconference, “Breast Cancer Survivors: What You Need To Know About Recent Developments In Genetics", Tuesday, October 29th, 8:00 p.m. Click here to register for this free teleconference.

If you would like to discuss your personal or family history of cancer and get involved in our genetics program, please feel free to contact me at 866.474.2774 or dsinger@sharsheret.org

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