Genetic testing for breast cancer risk can have a major impact on people’s lives. Before you or your relatives get tested, you must sign an informed consent document, which states that you have been fully informed of the benefits and risks of testing. Your genetic counselor likely will discuss the benefits and risks with you and give you some information to read on your own.
Many testing centers require that you participate in a genetic counseling session before and after testing. Even if genetic counseling sessions are not required, it is a good idea to ask for them.
The main benefit of testing is knowledge. If you know that the breast and/or ovarian cancer in your family is due to an abnormal BRCA1, BRCA2, or PALB2 gene and you test negative, this means you are not at high risk because of the genetic abnormality. But depending on other factors, including a close family member who had breast cancer that was not related to these known mutations, you could still be at high risk due to some other inherited gene yet to be discovered. If you test positive, you can take steps to prevent these cancers or try to catch them early if they do develop.
Before you decide to be tested, discuss the pros and cons listed on the Seeking Your Genetic Information: Pros and Cons page with your genetic counselor and other family members. Making decisions about genetic testing is a process that takes time and thought, and you may need a few sessions with your genetic counselor before you can make up your mind.
After you receive your test results, it is important to have a genetic counselor or other qualified healthcare professional interpret the results and discuss your health management options with you. This will make it easier for you to talk with your other doctors, who will help you make decisions about how best to address your cancer risk.
For more information on genetic testing, counseling, and support, visit FORCE (Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered). To find a genetic counselor near you, visit the National Society of Genetic Counselors.