Genetic testing has become much more prevalent. It seems like more people are developing cancer, but it is possible that the diagnostic process has simply improved, and doctors are now more equipped to diagnose. There are many different aspects when considering genetic testing; however there are a few main areas that I would like to focus on. Important topics to reflect on while debating genetic testing include the process of the testing, the types of tests available, the downfalls of the testing and the benefits of the testing.
First, let’s discuss what genetic testing entails. Genetic testing can be a little complicated. Luckily, The American Cancer Society does a great job of breaking it down. Each person has 23 pairs of DNA chromosomes. Gene mutations alter the gene to either over produce or under produce proteins that could lead to certain cells dividing and growing. If these cells grow too rapidly, then cancer develops in that person. Mutations can either be inherited or developed through different external behavior, such as tobacco use. The acquired mutations are a bit less harmful than the inherited mutations, because the acquired mutations only affect the cells that grow off of that cell. The inherited mutations can affect any growing and developing cells, even if they are not spawned from the mutated one. The most common form of genetic testing is the predicative gene test. The predicative gene test basically looks for any gene mutation that could put a patient’s health at risk in the future. There is also the carrier testing, which many potential parents undergo before deciding to have children to see if they will pass on defective genes to their offspring. The prenatal screening and newborn screening are both used on babies to insure their wellness before they arrive, and immediately after. Genetic testing can be done on blood, urine, cheek cells, and amniotic fluid. The scientists take the sample from the person and will look for the specific gene the mutation is known to affect. The results can take a few weeks.
The benefits of allowing genetic testing are immense, in the scientific world. Since people allowed researchers to analyze their genes, The Human Genome Project was completed in 2003. In The Human Genome Project, researchers mapped out an entire sequence of DNA. The next step is to figure out what every gene within a human genome does. There are approximately 25,000 genes per one human genome with a total of 3 billion human genomes in one person. If genetic testing continues, it will be much easier to trace every gene. Aside from The Human Genome Project, there is also The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA). The American Cancer Society says that TCGA is “working to map the genes of cancer cells to try to learn how those genes are changed to produce the cancer.” In order for TCGA to continue their work they have to collect tissue samples from cancer ridden people to trace all of the different types of cancer.
Apart from the scientific discovery end of genetic testing, it can also benefit the patient. Knowing what gene mutation a patient is exposed to can aid in deciphering what type of treatment is needed. Doctors can then decipher how the genes will be altered, anticipate how it will affect the patient, and attempt to counteract the disease. Knowing the gene mutation can also aid in lowering the risk of developing the disease and allows for early detection. But, a lot of times knowing about a gene mutation can cause a person a lot of unnecessary stress. Even if someone does find out they have a mutation, sometimes there are no treatment options available until that person is actually sick. People then worry about becoming ill, when the mutation does not always lead to disease.
The patients’ distress leads me to the main question of genetic testing. Is ignorance bliss? While researchers need genetic testing to discover how diseases work, is it too emotionally straining on the patients? Or is it better to know your genetic makeup to avoid catastrophe in the future? Should those with cancer in their family’s medical history participate in testing to further researcher goals?