Ever since I turned 21, primary care physicians and my OBGYN have asked if I plan to get tested for the BRCA II gene mutation. “Yes,” I always replied. “The first step is to get life insurance; the second step is to set up an appointment.” There was never a doubt in my mind of if I would get the genetic testing done, but rather when.
When the topic of genetic testing comes up in conversation, people often ask if I’m nervous finding out the results of the genetic testing. The genetic counselor I met with asked a similar question. I find this question interesting because I’ve never been nervous. I’ve always wanted to know whether or not I carry the gene mutation. Why? I can either be watched closely by doctors with puzzle pieces missing from my medical records or my doctors and I can be equipped with a full picture of my health risks. I choose the latter.
I think anyone who has had or has a parent with a serious illness always wonders about his or her own health- will I too have a similar diagnosis, is this hereditary? To feel equipped with all the facts to make the best decisions about my health, both in the present and for the future, my doctors and I need to know about my genetic makeup via genetic testing. A simple blood test will show my genetic risk factors- not just the BRCA II mutation but any other mutations that can impact my health.
There will be two outcomes with my blood test results. Test comes back negative for BRCA II, in which case I will be watched closely by doctors, receive routine mammograms, and monitor changes in my body. Test comes back positive for BRCA II, in which case I will be watched closely by doctors, receive routine mammograms, and monitor changes in my body. Notice a difference? No, because there really aren’t any in the immediate future. If I test positive there may be a need for MRIs in addition to routine mammograms and I will be watched even more closely by doctors. As I age, more scans or tests may be needed and I may partake in surgeries after I have children, but my current course of healthcare does not change. As science and medicine progresses, I may even be able to prevent passing the genetic mutation(s) to my child(ren) if I am a carrier.
My mom touts be your own healthcare advocate. Of course I agree! Arm yourself with as much information about your body, family medical history, and health risks as possible. Have open and honest communication with your family about your family’s medical history. Just as my mom discovered her original cancer diagnosis by going to the doctor regarding an abnormal lump, we should know our bodies, our health risks, and be aware of changes. Be your own advocate. Put the puzzle pieces of your health together. It starts by having conversations with your family and doctor.
Who should receive genetic testing?
What is the BRCA mutation and how can it cause cancer?