If you test positive for a gene mutation that has to do with a hereditary cancer syndrome, you now know that you are at a much higher-than-average risk of developing a cancer associated with your syndrome. We understand that this news can feel devastating, creating an uneasy feeling about the days ahead.
Your genetic counselor has likely gone over your results and a care management plan that includes ways to increase your odds of early detection, ways to prevent cancer, and how to share the news with your friends or family—but the news can still seem overwhelming.
Below, we’ve outlined ways to take care of yourself after learning about your positive test results.
1. Talk to someone
Whether it’s a family member, a friend, or even your genetic counselor—share your thoughts, feelings, and fears. A genetic counselor can be of great value—not only can they provide you with the science behind your test, as well as odds and prognosis, but they can help support you emotionally as well. Having someone from the outside, rather than a friend or family member, may help ease fears.
If you’re not ready to have that kind of conversation about your test results, journaling is another great outlet. It’s important to acknowledge your feelings during this time.
2. When you’re ready, share the information with your family
Your test results may provide great insight into another family member’s health as well. When you test positive for a gene mutation, there is a 50 percent chance that your parents, siblings, or children may also have the same gene mutation. This information can help that family member take a proactive stance on their health.
3. Begin practicing good health
It is proven that changing your diet to include more fruits and vegetables, in addition to increasing your physical activity, can reduce your risk of developing cancer. Quitting smoking and reducing alcohol intake also work towards decreasing your risk. Make taking care of your body a priority.
4. Consider next steps
Your genetic counselor will work with you to develop a care management plan that includes ways to increase your odds of early detection. These methods may include annual screenings, self-exams, and regular check-ups with your physician.
Your care plan will also include ways to decrease your risk for cancer. This may mean taking a medication (like Tamoxifen) or even surgery to reduce risk (like removing breasts) to lower the risk of breast cancer).
5. Connect with others who are high risk
You’re not alone. There are other families who have been diagnosed with a hereditary cancer syndrome and have “been there”. Depending on your diagnosis, your genetic counselor can help you connect with others who understand what you’re going through.
It’s important to remember that, even though you may have a higher risk of developing certain types of cancer than the rest of the population, it does not mean you have cancer. You and your genetic counselor can work together on the best care management plan for your risk. In the meantime, work towards caring for yourself both emotionally and physically.
If you are considering genetic testing and want to see if you qualify, take our quiz here.