Cancer is by far one of the most insidious medical conditions in the world today, and we need to take whatever we can get that gives us leverage on it. With increased awareness about cancer detection, there are now more means of early and convenient detection. A DNA testing company, 23andMe, now offers mail-order tests for three variants of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 breast cancer genes. Women with these mutations have a 45-85% higher chance of developing breast cancer. If tested positive, it means that the person has an increased risk for breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
While the mail-order test kit sounds like a dream come true for busy women who have been postponing their health check-up appointment, it is still extremely lacking. For one, the test is not accurate enough. In fact, there are over 1, 000 known BRCA mutations- the test only checks for three. As such, it is imperative to note that a negative test may give a false sense of security.
Women with a personal or family history of breast or ovarian cancer should get genetic counseling. This is especially so since about 5 to 10 percent of breast cancers are hereditary. As such, the mail-order tests should be followed up with a doctor’s consultation for a better and more holistic interpretation. Multi-gene panel tests are more accurate as they look for approximately 25 to 50 genes that may increase the risk of breast cancer.
23andMe should not be misunderstood as a replacement for regular screenings and health check-ups. In addition to such recommended screenings, you can also do a pre-test check in the comfort of your home by yourself. For instance, you can massage your breasts to search for possible lumps or masses that can be a sign of breast cancer.
The premise presented by 23andMe is a promising one and does pave the way for future innovation and developments when it comes to the integrity of home-based health screening. The harsh truth is that cancer does not discriminate against anyone. While there currently exists no way to “cancer-proof” one’s life, lifestyle habits such as smoking, physical activity and nutrition are personal factors that can have a small amount of influence on cancer risk, so be sure to stay on your toes!