Experts warn against mail-order breast cancer gene test

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Local health experts are warning against a mail-order genetic testing kit that tests for some of the genes linked to breast cancer.

The genetic testing company, '23 and Me,' is the first to receive FDA approval. The concern, however, is that anyone can order these tests - and that could potentially do more harm than good.

The mail-order tests for three breast cancer-related genes when there are hundreds of genes that can indicate breast cancer. The other issue is that many people may not be prepared to handle the results.

Many hospitals conduct genetic testing, including the Anderson Cancer Center Institute at Memorial Health in Savannah. Officials say they don't test just anyone. It's usually someone who is at a higher risk, like someone with a family history of breast cancer. Those they do decide to test - they have that patient meet with a genetic counselor who is there to help guide them through what can be a very emotional and potentially life-changing process.

When it comes to a mail-order kit on the market, experts worry the results could be misleading because it only looks for mutations on three genes, which means someone may think they are in the clear, but in reality, they've only been cleared on those three genes.

"In the past two weeks, I would say we've identified four patients that had a mutation in one of the other genes that weren't tested in this retail test but would be rested in the more extended panel, so it would have been missed," said Dr. William Burak, Director of Breast Oncology, Memorial Health.

"It could really turn your world upside down if you get news that you're not expecting and you don't have someone there to answer your questions," said Zoe Siegel, Oncology Genetic Counselor, Memorial Health. "So, it's really helpful to have somebody there, whether it's a genetic counselor or even a physician or another provider with knowledge in genetics to walk you through the possible outcomes of this test and what these test results could mean for that person and their family."

Experts say anyone who chooses to use one of these tests, they do not recommend making any drastic decisions about having any kind of surgery before seeking a second opinion from your doctor.

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