A Step-by-Step Guide to Cancer Genetic Testing

Dr. Ami P. Vaidya tells patients and their loved ones what to expect when they opt for cancer genetic testing.

Genetic testing is key in determining cancer treatments and family members’ potential risk for disease development. However, after an individual decides that they will undergo testing, they may not know what to expect.

In a recent interview with CURE®, Dr. Ami P. Vaidya, co-chief of the division of gynecologic oncology and vice chair in the department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Hackensack Meridian Health University Medical Center, outlined the process and encouraged people to undergo genetic testing if they are eligible.

Genetic Testing Process

The process will start with a consultation, either with a genetic counselor or a member from the oncology care team. Family history will be collected, including family members’ cancer history and what age they were diagnosed.

Then, individuals will likely have blood drawn – though some tests allow for a buccal swab that is collected from the inside of the cheek. “So, there are two ways to do testing, both of which I’d say are minimally invasive,” Vaidya said.

Then, the sample is tested, where experts look for various genetic mutations that can be associated with an increased cancer risk or help decide treatment options for someone who already received a diagnosis.

“Test results are then processed and run in the various labs. Typically, turnaround times that we see are about two weeks, where a very detailed report is generated,” Vaidya said, explaining that the next step is another consultation where the results are explained to the patient or family member.

Paying for Testing

With a process that is so involved, patients and their loved ones may be concerned about the cost of cancer genetic testing – especially since these tests carried a hefty price tag in years past.

However, the cost of genetic testing has drastically decreased in recent years for patients and their relatives.

“There are so many (insurance) plans, and every plan is different, but I can say for the most part that the majority of plans – including Medicare and Medicaid plans – are covering what we call Cascade genetic testing,” Vaidya said, explaining that Cascade testing looks for a certain genetic mutation in the direct family member(s) of a patient with cancer who is known to have that mutation.

Even patients who do not have health insurance may be able to receive assistance in paying for genetic testing.

“Tests that were running in the thousands of dollars are now in the hundreds of dollars (price range), so it’s really a quite dramatic change in price,” Vaidya said. “Cascade testing is one of the places where we can really make a huge, positive impact. So (genetic testing companies) are very, very much willing to work with individuals – especially those who do not have insurance.”

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