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Limits of Gene Tests

Posted 9/1/2016

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  As science moves rapidly forward, there is an explosion of interest in genomics, the understanding of the molecular and genetic make up of each of us and of any particular cancer. One side of this has been the development of targeted therapies (e.g. herceptin) while another effort has been focused on genetic testing to identify those people at high risk for developing cancer.

  Probably the best known such testing for a cancer-related genetic mutation is the BRCA 1 and BRCA2 genes that significantly raise a woman's risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Testing for them has been available since 1995-1996. More recently, an expanded genetic test has been developed, and can look for additional genetic mutations that may increase risk. Tests can also identify specific targets that suggest that new cancer therapies may be useful.

  There is still so very much that we don't know. And genetic testing may raise more questions and worries than it answers. This is an excellent article from Scientific American that you may find interesting.

Why Gene Tests for Cancer Don't Offer More Answers
Despite progress, genetic profiling of tumors has a long way to go
By Jessica Wapner on September 1, 2016

Genetic tests for cancer have come a long way since they first entered the clinic in 1995. Back then, mutations in two genes—known as BRCA1 and BRCA2—hinted at the crucial role that genetics can play in treatment decisions. Women carrying one of those mutations (and having a family history of breast or ovarian cancer) were much more likely than the general population to develop tumors in their breasts or ovaries. Then, as now, some of these women opted to have their breasts and ovaries removed before any
malignant growths could arise.
In the intervening decades, researchers have come to recognize that most cancers are driven largely by abnormalities in genes. Genetic analysis of tumors has, therefore, become standard practice for many malignancies—such as breast, lung and colon cancer —because the information may help guide therapy. Clinicians have amassed a modest arsenal of drugs able to counteract some of the most common mutations.

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