The Benefits of Taking a Cancer Genetic Test
Cancer is the second most common cause of death in the United States – and with over 200 iterations recognized by medical professionals, there are an alarming number of ways to contract the disease. If you have reason to believe you might be susceptible to one or more types of cancer, you should look into taking a cancer DNA test. Specific types of cancer can run in families, and depending on your heritage and its history, you may be more vulnerable to certain versions of the disease. Whether or not you think you might be predisposed to cancer, taking a cancer DNA test is a great way to ease your mind and weigh your risk: helping you determine what sort of measures you should take to increase your odds of living a long, healthy life.
What is cancer?
Before you take your cancer DNA test, let’s take a closer look at what cancer actually is and how it manifests in the human body. Cell division is a natural process everyone’s body goes through on a regular basis: a.k.a., the growth and multiplication of existing cells to ensure the body has what it needs to stay healthy and well. Cells perpetually grow old and die, and the newer, healthier cells take their place to maintain the body’s functions without hiccup. When this natural process breaks down, the risk for cancer development spurs to life. Cancer is a possibly-fatal disease that is born from abnormal cell growth: instead of healthy cells recycling themselves, abnormal or damaged cells take over the game – and the body struggles to cope with this disruption. These growing, damaged cells are now likely to form into tumors – lumps of tissue that can either be cancerous or benign (cancer-free). While benign tumors can be pretty easily removed and don’t tend to grow back, cancerous tumors are more likely to spread, invade, and even grow back aggressively after they’ve been removed. Unfortunately, there is no consistent, foolproof cure for any type of cancer – although there are a few treatment plans available that may help depending on the type of cancer you have or the stage it’s in. All the more reason to conduct a cancer DNA analysis or cancer genetic test if you’re able to, as this knowledge can help you catch its development at an early-enough stage to make a difference.
The main causes of cancer
This genetic disease may occur if it runs in your family – a.k.a., if the damaged genetics were inherited directly from your parents. However, there are other factors that can dramatically increase a person’s susceptibility to different types of cancer outside of inheritance, like:
- Excessive smoking and/or drinking
- Eating a regularly unhealthy, unbalanced diet
- Excessive exposure to the sun
- Aging (people over the age of 65 tend to be more susceptible to disease or illness)
- Being overweight
- Not exercising at a healthy rate
- A family history of cancer
- Living in an unhealthy environment (regular exposure to secondhand smoke, regular inhalation of toxic chemicals, etc.)
- A combination of the above risk factors
The most common types of cancer
The availability of a cancer DNA analysis gives us access to information about an incredibly diverse disease. Over 200 varieties of cancer lie under the umbrella term, and the varieties are often categorized by the type of cell they begin in, which can be split into five main groups:
- Brain and spinal cord cancers
Brain and spinal cord cancers are known as central nervous system cancers – a type of tumor that develops when the brain or spinal cord grow abnormally fast. Central nervous system tumors are malignant, which means they’re more likely to grow quickly and spread to other areas of the body.
Carcinoma is a type of cancer that starts in the skin, or tissues that line a person’s internal organs. It’s less likely that carcinoma will be fatal, but it isn’t impossible.
Leukemia is a type of cancer that occurs in the blood cells. While it’s most common in adults over the age of 55, leukemia is also the most common form of cancer to develop in children under the age of 15.
Lymphoma is an umbrella term for cancers that begin in the lymphatic system. The survival rate for lymphoma is around 73 percent, but this can vary greatly depending on the stage or type of lymphoma a person is suffering from.
Myeloma is born from the abnormal growth of a person’s plasma cells: a.k.a., the white blood cells that create protective antibodies to prevent infection. Myeloma is an entirely incurable, terminal form of cancer, and although the life expectancy of a myeloma patient has increased by a few years with recent medical developments, it remains ultimately fatal.
Sarcoma first develops in bones, fat, or muscle. It’s one of the least commonly-occuring forms of cancer, but it can be a serious medical issue for a suffering patient. There are treatment plans available, and, as with any form of cancer, it’s best to catch sarcoma and begin treating it as early as possible.
What are some major symptoms of cancer?
Since there are so many recognized versions of cancer, it can be very difficult to pinpoint symptoms. This is another reason a cancer DNA analysis can be crucial in a disease’s possible development, as its results can help you narrow down which specific symptoms to look out for if you think you might be at risk. However, if you don’t have access to these sorts of cancer DNA test results, there are still a few general symptoms to keep an eye out for that could mean a version of cancer has made its way into your body:
- Firm lumps anywhere in the body that you haven’t noticed (or had checked out) before
- Changes in nipple color, size, or feeling
- Nipple discharge
- Itchy, red, scaly, dimpled, or puckered skin
- Difficulty urinating/having a bowel movement – or pain while doing so
- Blood in your urine or stools
- Unknown bleeding or bruising
- Consistent cough symptoms
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Changes in appetite
- Severe, lasting fatigue
- Stomach pain
- Trouble swallowing food
- Indigestion or pain after eating
- Changes in vision and/or hearing
- A new mole on your skin (or changes in an existing mole)
- Skin sores that don’t go away with a few weeks
- Inexplicable and dramatic weight gain or loss
What is a cancer DNA analysis?
A cancer DNA analysis – or a cancer DNA test – is a highly-accurate way to evaluate the likelihood that you’ll eventually suffer from a specific type of cancer. The test will analyze your genetics, searching for gene mutations that might increase your risk. No test will tell you for certain whether or not you’ll actually develop cancer, but knowing whether or not you’re likely to can definitely help you determine how you should be living life, and what sort of symptoms you should be actively working against in your daily routine. This is one of the many reasons people seek out a cancer DNA analysis. For example: if you know you’re prone to skin cancer, you may want to take extra precautions to avoid the exposure to the sun; or if kidney cancer runs in your family, you might be that much more likely to avoid excessive alcohol consumption.
Should I get a cancer DNA analysis?
If you’re wondering whether or not you should seek out a cancer DNA test, you might want to ask yourself the following questions:
- Does your family have a strong history of a specific type (or types) of cancer?
If several members of your family have been diagnosed with a type – or multiple types – of cancer, you may want to consult a cancer DNA test. The cancer in question may have nothing to do with inherited gene mutation, but at the very least, you might access a little peace of mind when it comes to your medical future when you have information from a cancer genetic test in your hands.
- Was someone in your family diagnosed with cancer at an abnormally young age?
If someone in your family contracted cancer at an abnormally young age – typically under the age of 55 – you might be at a higher risk to develop the same disease iteration. Taking a cancer genetic test will help you determine where your risk lies, and what sort of precautions you might want to take.
- Have one or more of your family members suffered from multiple types of cancer?
When someone suffers from more than one type of cancer, the risk for the disease being hereditary increases. If that’s the case in your family, you should consult a cancer DNA test.
- Are you related to someone who knows they have an inherited gene mutation?
Maybe no one in your family has had cancer, but you know that a family member has taken a cancer DNA test and tested positive for an inherited gene mutation. This might never result in anything serious, but it still renders you more likely to have an inherited gene mutation yourself – and you might want to access that knowledge to figure out what approach is best for you and your body by taking a cancer genetic test.
- Have you been diagnosed with cancer?
If you’ve already been diagnosed with cancer, you can still benefit from taking a cancer DNA test – especially if you have children or are planning to someday. This will help your family members understand whether or not you carry an inherited gene mutation, which will in turn help them understand whether or not they might be at risk for the same disease later in life.