Geoff McLennan, Prostate Cancer Patient and Advocate

Greetings, everyone! I’m happy to reconvene this blog by sharing how a better understanding of prostate cancer (PCa) and the ever-improving landscape of healthcare can improve our well-being. In our last discussion, we explored the importance of overcoming fear by seeking information and then guidance from your primary care doctor to demystify the world of PCa. In this installment I will explain how germline and somatic testing are integrated into cancer diagnoses and care.

Our focus in this post is to explain the importance of genetic testing and the difference between hereditary cancer (germline) testing and tumor (somatic) testing. Prostate cancer (PCa) is often quite tolerable when accurately diagnosed and treated. Today, confronting aggressive prostate cancer with the aid of genetic tests and targeted treatment marks a promising reality.

Why Genetic Testing?

Cancer is caused by changes, or alterations, to a cell’s DNA. These alterations change the way the cell behaves, including when it grows, divides, or dies. Alterations that are unable to be repaired by the body can lead to cancer and cancerous tumors. Genetic tests involve sampling tissues, blood, or fluids from your body to identify genes impacting disease aggressiveness, family risk planning decisions, and other crucial aspects of health. Knowing more about your cancer helps you and your doctor make the most informed treatment decisions possible.

Hereditary Cancer Testing

Hereditary cancer occurs when a gene mutation is passed down through generations within a family, affecting yourself, children and grandchildren. People with hereditary cancer mutations in their family are more likely to have relatives with the same type or other related types of cancer.

Testing like the Myriad MyRisk® Hereditary Cancer Test can identify if you inherited a mutation that may have caused your cancer, your risk of developing a secondary cancer, and can help inform your children of their risk of developing future cancers. For example, we know that groups of secondary cancers can be traced to mutated genes from the family tree that increase the risk for colon, breast (men and women), pancreatic, prostate, and other cancers. Some gene mutations pose a threat to our health, whereas others are benign and do not lead to diseases like cancer.

If you can answer “yes” to any of the questions below, you may be a good candidate for testing and should discuss it further with your healthcare provider. 

What is tumor testing?

Tumor testing, also known as somatic testing, is performed on a biopsy or a sample of cancerous tissue. Tumor testing looks for mutations that exist ONLY within the tumor itself and nowhere else in the body. One tumor test that offers substantial information about your genes is the Myriad Precise Tumor test, it’s a best-in-class somatic test that looks at over 500 genes inside the cells of the tumor to determine whether there are mutations in the tumor genes. If there are, you may qualify for life-sustaining therapies and clinical trials. This valuable information shows your doctor a road map for devising tailored and effective treatment plans for individuals battling cancer.

Why get both tests?

Undergoing both tests helps minimize the chance of missing mutant genes that usually cause cancer and increases the chances of effectively combating cancer. It is vital to perform both somatic (Precise Tumor) and hereditary genetic tests (MyRisk) at the same time because some mutations are inherited, while others only exist within a tumor. Patients can miss out on advanced treatment eligibility if only one test is complete.

It’s like having comprehensive insurance coverage for your car, which includes protection against collision, theft, and glass breakage, both somatic and hereditary cancer tests provide a comprehensive shield against fighting your cancer. This parallels the extensive information provided by tests like Myriad Precise and MyRisk. Leaving yourself “underinsured” for cancer coverages and treatments is not a desirable choice.

How can I be sure I’m on the right track for my prostate cancer care?

Like the saying “leave the driving to us,” the Myriad MyRisk and Precise tests take the worry out of finding trustworthy, and often lifesaving, therapies. Myriad empowers your doctors and specialists (including urologists, oncologists, and radiologists) to “do the driving,” as these genetic tests serve as the comprehensive roadmap to your healthy peace of mind. This approach to testing and treatment is also known as “personalized medicine” or “personalized care.”

I hope you’ve gained a bit more insight into how your medical team will assess and diagnose your prostate cancer. In upcoming posts, we’ll delve into how treatments align with your PCa. Rest assured, science is navigating the twists and turns, managing that Hurst shifter in your father’s Corvette quite adeptly, and is determined to outrun your cancer before the checkered flag waves. Including genetic tests means taking the most informative route for treating your prostate cancer!

Keep in mind that fostering a strong and trusting relationship with your healthcare providers is important for effective medical care and for understanding testing. Be sure to ask questions when you get your test  results, and hopefully this blog post will help you understand the type of genetic test you received and why your doctor or urologist or oncologist ordered it for you. Knowledge conquers fear.

If you have any questions about testing, please reach out to [email protected].

Thank you for taking the time to read my post. Until our next encounter, keep a healthy diet, stay active, and cultivate a cheerful outlook toward your health and life. As we emphasize in ASPI, “Live, Learn, and Thrive with prostate cancer.”

Read more like this: Navigating Urological Care: Practical Steps for Men’s Health

Geoff McLennan, MPA, Prostate Cancer Patient and Advocate

Author Bio:

Geoff is dedicated to helping families and friends support a prostate cancer patient. He joined the board of Active Surveillance Patients International (ASPI) in 2018 and is an 11-year PCa patient. As a PCa patient advocate, he envisions providing a broad understanding of how patients can collaborate with clinicians for realistic medical care. He enjoys meeting and learning from his clinicians, cancer researchers, providing free online programs for patients, and reminds us that “to live, learn and thrive with PCa” is the motto of ASPI. He is glad he took science courses for understanding a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise and diet.

Geoff also volunteers as a board member and past chairman of the Placer County Mental Health Advisory Board where his interest includes therapy and resources for AS men, and a broad oversight of community mental health programs and innovations. He is married to Constance McLennan, a fine artist, has a grown son, and lives in Northern California.

*Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author, and do not represent the views or opinions of Myriad Genetics or its affiliates. It is important to consult with your healthcare provider. Geoff is a paid content writer for Myriad Genetics, Inc.