November is National Family Health History Month, but it’s also the month when we celebrate “Movember”. The mission of Movember is to bring awareness to men worldwide to get screened for the deadly diseases, including prostate cancer, which is now the second leading form of cancer in the United States.
Now, one of the global leaders in genetic testing wants to make it known that cancer prevention and detection should be a year-round process.
Myriad Genetics, the team that discovered the BRCA gene mutation and subsequently developed the test taken by actress Angelina Jolie, is now working to educate men on the importance of being screened. Myriad’s approach focuses on its myRisk Hereditary Cancer Test. The test utilizes sophisticated technologies and proprietary algorithms to evaluate 28 clinically significant genes associated with eight hereditary cancer sites, including the prostate. The test can help determine your risk of not only contracting cancer, but also passing it to your children.
An easy place to begin to learn about your chances, Myriad suggests, is by taking the Hereditary Cancer Quiz.
“The message we need to get out is that hereditary cancer is not just about women,” says Johnathan Lancaster, M.D., Ph.D, Myriad’s chief medical officer. “It's about men, too. If you have prostate cancer and have a higher-grade tumor based upon Gleason score of seven or greater and any family history of cancer, this means that you should talk to your physician about genetic screening.”
Technology has made our daily fitness lives almost automatic. We can track calories burned, heart rate, miles run, even stress levels—right on our wrists—and then observe the results on our phones. And yet some of the same fitness-minded individuals rely strictly on the “it runs in the family” method of cancer detection (if they even check it at all). You know how it goes: My father had cancer, his father had cancer; therefore, I’m probably going to get it. It’s not what you call a highly scientific method of screening in this age of precision medicine. Myriad is hoping to change that type of thinking.
“It's not just about telling people why they developed cancer,” Lancaster says. “It’s also about reassuring people in those families that if they have not yet developed cancer and didn't inherit one of these genes, that they’re not at increased risk compared to the general population.”
Lancaster suggests people affected with cancer—and even those unaffected—should talk to their doctor about their family history of cancer. If they meet medical society guidelines for hereditary cancer risk assessment, their doctor will order a myRisk test, which means a referral is not needed. Yes, it can help in detection, but in the event you are diagnosed with cancer, your treatment can be custom-made to fit the type of cancer you have, which is a relatively new breakthrough, considering it was just a few decades ago all cancers were treated in a one-size-fits-all procedure.
“Precision medicine is taking the guess work out,” Lancaster says. “Historically, we treated everyone like they were exactly the same, even though we know everyone was different. Our genetics are different, our tumors are different. But historically, we treated all breast cancers the same, or all prostate cancers the same.”
Getting a test is easy and only requires a standard office visit to collect either a blood or saliva sample from the patient. The results usually are available within 10 days. Once the results are in, your doctor will schedule a follow-up visit to discuss the results and any implications for medical management.