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Cancer genetic testing: What to expect

If you have decided to have cancer genetic testing to find out your risk of developing cancer in the future, you may have lots of questions.

Individuals will meet with a clinical nurse specialist from Via Christi’s Cancer Outreach and Risk Assessment Program

Prior to your first appointment, you will be sent a health history questionnaire asking for very specific information on three generations of family history of cancer. The questionnaire will need to be completed and returned one week prior to your appointment. 

Based on that information, a pedigree chart will be created, which will illustrate all of the family members who have and have not had cancer. 

In your first meeting with a practitioner, they will explain how cancer can be linked to genetics, what  genetic testing can identify in terms of risk and what the test results can mean. All of these need to be fully understood before undergoing genetic testing, because sometimes the results can be overwhelming. 

If the decision is made to proceed with genetic testing, you will have either a blood draw or a saliva collection to obtain a sample for testing. 

The results will be returned within three to four weeks. 

In approximately four weeks, you will again meet with a practitioner to go over the test results. At that time they will explain your options.

If your tests show an increased risk for cancer, they may recommend several different possibilities: Lifestyle changes, risk-lowering medications or even preventive surgery. If your tests for a gene mutation come back negative or inconclusive, there still may be concerns to discuss regarding you and your family's health. 

About Maggie Ward

Maggie Ward is an oncology nurse navigator with the Via Christi Cancer Institute.