Why Genetic Testing Should Be Part of Your Mammogram
Think back to the last time you went in for a mammogram: did anyone ask whether you’d ever taken a genetic test to learn more about your risk of developing breast cancer? If not, don’t be surprised if you get this question at your next appointment.
Radiologists are highly trained medical professionals who can peer into those murky mammogram images and glean critical information about a woman’s breast health. In recent years, though, these healthcare providers have taken on even more. Today’s radiologists also factor in lots of other clinical data to make the best recommendations possible for their patients. Many have even adopted tools based on artificial intelligence to help stratify someone’s cancer risk based on how her mammography images compare to millions of others.
As those radiologists seek out every bit of relevant data, one obvious element to include is a person’s genetic risk of developing cancer. While cancer can develop in anyone — for a multitude of reasons — some people are genetically predisposed to be at higher risk. When that risk is known, it provides important context for radiologists, gynecologists, and other breast health specialists. For patients with no genetic risk factors, an unclear spot on a mammogram might get a wait-and-see approach; for patients at high genetic risk, the same spot might trigger a more insistent biopsy instead. It’s the same concept as dense breast tissue, which can increase a woman’s risk of developing cancer four-fold and is routinely assessed with mammography. But genetic factors can contribute even more risk, as much as 10 times the population average.
That’s why more and more medical imaging centers — the places that specialize in mammograms — are offering more comprehensive risk assessment, which often includes assessing family health history and possibly offering genetic testing to their patients. Here at Myriad Genetics, we have teamed up with many imaging centers to streamline this process. Our experts can help radiologists and their staff members add genetic testing as a routine part of their workflow. To ensure that it doesn’t become a burden for them, Myriad Genetics provides the education and genetic counseling with our team to deliver the expertise necessary to help patients navigate the process and to make sure healthcare providers get the information they need. Our genetic counselors are available to take calls from patients. To make things really easy, we work with the software providers most breast centers use, which allows teams to transfer a patient’s information directly to us when a test is ordered so she doesn’t have to repeat her story all over again when she calls us. (We go to doctors too, and we know how annoying all that introductory paperwork can be!)
If you haven’t had a comprehensive assessment to determine your risk of developing breast cancer, be sure to ask about it at your next mammogram. Your imaging center should already have a protocol in place to help you personalize your risk and incorporate genetic test results into your regular breast care if it’s appropriate for you — but if it doesn’t, your radiologist can contact Myriad Genetics to start the process.