23andMe unveils new genetic test for cancer
The Food and Drug Administration has just announced their approval for the first at-home test for breast cancer, prostate cancer, and ovarian cancer. The kit will test for three particular mutations that are found in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which have a high associated risk for the aforementioned cancers. The mutations are said to be most common for those of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, but have been seen in any parts of the general population.
Since the test only tests for these three mutations, it can lead to a feeling of false safety, as there can be other cancers they can potentially be a genetic carrier for. According to the FDA, “The test analyzes DNA collected from a self-collected saliva sample, and the report describes if a woman is at increased risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer, and if a man is at increased risk of developing breast cancer or may be at increased risk of developing prostate cancer.”
In effect, the test doesn’t find all cancer-causing genes. The test only detects three out of more than 1,000 known mutations. When someone takes the test, it may carry a negative result, but this does not mean it rules out the possibility of a genetic disposition to a number of cancers later on in life. According to the National Society of Genetic Disorders, people shouldn’t be taking the test without first talking to an expert. The group said, “Consumers who test positive for these mutations need to be retested in a clinical setting under the supervision of a medical professional before moving forward with any medical decisions.”
Erica Ramos, the President of this organization, said in a statement, “Anyone who has a strong personal or family history of breast or ovarian cancer and is interested in finding out more about their individualized risk should consult with a genetic counselor to discuss their genetic testing options, or to discuss their results.”
Dr. Len Licthenfield of the American Cancer Society has voiced his opinion of the controversies that could come with consumer branded genetic testing. In one of his blog posts, he said, “Of this I have no doubt: this is the start of an early discussion on the value and role of genetic testing in the population at large. Who should be tested, what they should be tested for, what to do about those test results, and how to help people make the best decisions for their health care are all on the table.”
The American Cancer Society says that this year alone, over 260,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. It is currently the second-biggest cancer killer of American women, with a projected 41,000 deaths this year alone. While this new genetic test by 23andMe is not a replacement for traditional cancer screening by a medical professional, it is still better than nothing. This is just the beginning for making genetic screening more accessible for the general public, especially for those unaware of their family medical history or ancestry. The future of genetic testing will hopefully uncover these things for those curious and caring about their health.