Knowledge is Power

Knowledge is Power

Peggy Cottrell, Genetics Program Coordinator

Sometimes those who have been diagnosed with cancer think that a hereditary genetic test will not be beneficial.  They might think, “I’ve already got cancer, this won’t help me.”  Nothing could be further from the truth.

There have always been three good reasons for a person with cancer to have the genetic testing done themselves.  First and foremost, it can change the treatment recommendations.  For example, a women diagnosed with breast cancer might be more likely to consider a bilateral mastectomy if she carries a hereditary cancer mutation.  Second, individuals with hereditary cancer may be at risk for more than one kind of cancer.  We don’t want to cure a woman’s breast cancer and then down the road have her be diagnosed with ovarian cancer.  Finally, if the person in the family with cancer tests positively, than that makes the negative results of other family members more valuable since we know a main factor is causing the cancer in the family.  

However, the benefit of genetic testing that I am highlighting today is the availability of a targeted medication.  People who are diagnosed with cancer and have either a hereditary cancer mutation, or the presence of mutation in the tumor after biomarker testing, may benefit by taking a medicine uniquely targeted to these changes.  Mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 can lead to a reduced ability of the cells to repair certain DNA damage.  The cancer cells themselves are vulnerable because they have more DNA damage than normal cells.  The PARP (Poly ADP ribose polymerase) pathway is another way the cells repair DNA. PARP inhibitors reduce this second pathway’s ability to repair DNA.  This targeted treatment preferentially kills the cancer cells with less side effects to normal cells.  

If you or a loved one is being treated for breast, ovarian, pancreatic or prostate cancer, it’s important to consider biomarker testing to look at the mutations in the tumor. If there is a personal or family history of breast, ovarian, pancreatic or prostate cancer, especially with Ashkenazi Jewish heritage, genetic testing is recommended. Ask your physician if these types of testing might be beneficial.

This blog series was made possible with generous support from . For more information within this series see here.

Sharsheret is a national not for profit cancer support and education organization and does not provide any medical advice or perform any medical procedures. Sharsheret does not endorse or promote any specific medication, treatment, product, or service, and makes no guarantees regarding the effectiveness of the product discussed herein. The information provided herein is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment. You should always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider.