Molecular and genetic testing
Each human cell has about 20,000 genes, which tell the cell what to do and when to grow and divide. Cancer starts because of changes to the genes (known as mutations).
Some people are born with a gene change that increases their risk of cancer (an inherited faulty gene), but most gene changes that cause cancer build up during a person’s lifetime (acquired gene changes).
In some circumstances, your doctors may recommend extra tests to look for acquired gene changes (molecular tests) or inherited gene changes (genetic tests).
If you have pancreatic cancer, you may be offered extra tests on the biopsy sample known as molecular or genomic testing. This looks for gene changes and other features in the cancer cells that may help your doctors decide which treatments to recommend.
Molecular testing for pancreatic cancer is not covered by Medicare and can be expensive, so check what costs are involved and how helpful it would be. If you are having molecular testing as part of a clinical trial, the costs may be covered.
Your doctor may suspect you have developed pancreatic cancer because you have inherited a faulty gene – for example, because other members of your family have also had pancreatic cancer. In this case, they may refer you to a family cancer clinic for genetic counselling and extra tests.
These tests are known as genetic or germline tests. The results may help your doctor work out what treatment to recommend and can also provide important information for your blood relatives.
Genetic counselling can help you understand what tests are available to you and what the results mean for you and your family.
Medicare may cover the costs of genetic tests or you may need to pay for them – check this with your treatment team.
Podcast: Tests and Cancer
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Dr Benjamin Loveday, Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary (HPB) Surgeon, Royal Melbourne Hospital and Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Katherine Allsopp, Palliative Medicine Physician, Crown Princess Mary Cancer Centre, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Hollie Bevans, Senior Dietitian, Radiotherapy and Oncology, Western Health, VIC; Dr Lorraine Chantrill, Head of Department Medical Oncology, Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District, NSW; Amanda Maxwell, Consumer; Prof Michael Michael, Medical Oncologist, Lower and Upper GI Oncology Service, Co-Chair Neuroendocrine Unit, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and University of Melbourne, VIC; Dr Andrew Oar, Radiation Oncologist, Icon Cancer Centre, Gold Coast University Hospital, QLD; Meg Rogers, Nurse Consultant Upper GI/NET Service, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Ady Sipthorpe, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA.
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