Unfortunately, most people find about their genetic predispositions towards certain cancers only after a family member has been diagnosed.
A new study conducted by researchers from Yale University shows just how prevalent genetic risk factors for cancers are, and the results call for more effective DNA screening for everyone.
The study was published in the journal JAMA Network Open.
“As a colleague said, it usually takes a tragedy for people to get tested,” said Michael Murray, the 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.”
Data on more than 50,000 people who had undergone genetic screening showed that over 80 percent of the people screened carried a cancer-associated gene variant in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. This variance increases the risk of breast, ovarian, prostate and pancreatic cancers.
The average age of the people in the study was 60, and 267 out of the test group were diagnosed with a BRCA-associated cancer.
Very few of the study participants both with and without a BRCA association cancer knew they possessed a genetic risk factor.
Understanding your risk for certain cancers is important because it can lead to early diagnosis and better treatment and prevention methods compared to someone who is diagnosed with a later stage of cancer.
“Once risk is identified, we can apply proven tools for early diagnosis and prevention, and 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 through genomic screening approaches,” said Murray.