Genetic counselling is important if you have a family history of breast cancer

  • Family
  • Thursday, 22 Apr 2021

There are many laboratories out there selling genetic tests but some aren’t accurate and may be used wrongly, resulting in women getting the wrong information about their actual risk of cancer. Photo: Pixabay

Lily’s mother and sister both passed away because of breast cancer.

“I always felt that sooner or later, I would also get the Big C, it was just a matter of time, ” says Lily.

In 2019, she signed up for a genetic test with a healthcare centre.

“I don’t know how many genes were tested, but the results were very bad, ” she recalls.

Lily tested positive for many genes, from breast cancer to pancreatic cancer, and there was no further advice given on what could be done.

“I thought the only treatment option I had was a preventive mastectomy, ” she says.

Lily consulted a breast surgeon who further investigated her results.

“I was really surprised because according to the surgeon, if the earlier results were true, I wouldn’t still be walking around!” she exclaims.

The surgeon recommended a second genetic test with a smaller, targeted set of genes, and this time, with genetic counselling.

Lily was amazed that the results were negative for any changes in the genes that would put her at high risk for breast cancer.

“While I didn’t shed a tear when I tested positive the first time, I was just numb, when I tested negative for breast cancer the second time, I cried, ” she recalls.

If Lily had done preventive mastectomy, her risk of getting breast cancer would be reduced to less than one per cent. But after genetic counselling, her feeling was of great relief – she didn’t really need the surgery.

“Of course, I still need to go for checkups, but now, I realise it’s very important to get a DNA test with genetic counselling because that helps me understand what the results mean and I can make more informed decisions, ” she says.

Director of the Universiti Malaya Cancer Research Institute Prof Dr Nur Aishah Mohd Taib says that genetic testing is already carried out in clinical work in Malaysia but people have to be careful about the tests that they do, and discuss with knowledgeable and experienced doctors such as medical geneticists, breast surgeons, gynaecologists, and oncologists.

Cancer Research Malaysia chief scientific officer, Prof Datin Paduka Dr Teo Soo Hwang says that genetic counselling provides women with information about what genetic tests are and involve, the consequences of carrying a genetic risk on health and insurance, the chances of passing it on to children, and what can be done about it.

“There may be many laboratories out there selling genetic tests but some aren’t accurate and may be used wrongly, resulting in women getting the wrong information about their actual risk of cancer so it’s important to seek the advice of a genetic counsellor and qualified doctor to get the right type of genetic test and accurate results, ” says Dr Teo.

Cancer Research Malaysia currently runs a hotline (Tel: 012-3747426, 012-3684742, 012-5484742 or 016-3634742) for genetic counselling that patients or healthy persons who are concerned about cancer that runs in their families, can contact.

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