A lack of routine screenings means tragedy is usually the first alarm bell.
Angelina Jolie had her breasts removed because she’s at a high risk of developing breast cancer. And other women are following suit. In an effort to dodge fate, many of those testing positive for the BRCA cancer gene are lining up to lengthen their lives.
But how many people are really being saved? Some, but no where close to all.
New research shows that even with increased awareness, up to eight out of 10 people who test positive for cancer risk genes don’t even know they have them. That’s steep.
Scientists at Yale University analyzed genetic screening done on more than 50,000 people. It was found that more than 80% of those with a genetic risk for breast, ovarian, prostate, and pancreatic cancer didn’t know they embodied it, despite having frequent interaction with their healthcare system.
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“As a colleague said, it usually takes a tragedy for people to get tested,” said Michael Murray, professor of genetics at Yale School of Medicine and senior author of the study.
“Our reliance on a documented personal or family history as a trigger to offer testing is not working. Hopefully, one day we can change that with effective DNA-based screening for everyone.”
That being said, a positive genetic test for cancer can be scary, it’s no guarantee you’ll develop it. But it’s a useful tool.
“Once risk is identified, we can apply proven tools for early diagnosis and prevention,” Murray said. “We believe that the 31% difference in cancer incidence in these two groups is a window into an opportunity to decrease cancer and cancer deaths,” he added.
For more on genetic testing for cancer, who should consider it and what genes are involved, click here.