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Genetics: Battling cancer with personalized, gene based care

Every cell in your body contains pieces of DNA called genes that tell cells when to grow and divide. Your cells activate genes when they need them and turn them off when they don’t. This activation and deactivation are how a cell becomes specialized. All cells have the same genes, but some become muscle cells while others become bone cells or other tissue cells.

Mutations are abnormal changes in a gene’s DNA. Cells become cancerous largely because of mutations. Cancer begins when a mutation replicates and the cell starts to grow and divide out of control. There are two major types of gene mutations:

  • Inherited: These mutations were present in the egg or sperm that formed the person. This type of mutation is present in every cell of the body and can be passed down to the next generation. Inherited gene mutations are responsible for a small fraction of cancers.
  • Acquired: Most cancers are caused by acquired gene mutations, which begin in one cell — often due to environmental causes like cigarette smoke, UV radiation, stress hormones, pollution or diet. 

These mutations are passed along as the original cell replicates and the newly formed cells continue the process.

When a mutation occurs, a cell usually repairs itself or dies. If not, the cell becomes cancerous. Finding certain genes or gene mutations — such as BRCA1 and BRCA2, which have been linked to breast cancer — can be helpful in diagnosing cancer and monitoring the effects of treatment. 

MyCode genetic sequencing is only available at Geisinger

Geisinger is a leader in informatics — the science of processing data for retrieval and storage. We’ve also been collecting and analyzing DNA samples since 2007 and have amassed one of the world’s largest biobanks in the form of the MyCode® Community Health Initiative. These capabilities put us at the forefront of genomic research. 

Using a simple blood sample or cheek swab, our team of geneticists can detect the earliest signs of cancer, so you can start treatment right away. Not only that, your doctors can use your genomic information to determine which therapies should work well for you — and which would be better to avoid. And best of all, your care team might be able to advise you on preventive steps to take to avoid getting a cancer diagnosis in the first place. 

Geisinger is one of the few programs in the region with a dedicated team of genetic counselors. And because we offer screenings for inherited conditions, our counselors can work with your family members, too — helping them manage risks and get treatment if necessary.

How’s that for state-of-the-art preventive, personalized care? 

Get epigenetics on your side

Epigenetics is the study of what causes a cell to switch genes on and off. Diet, exercise, environmental factors and your emotional state all cause chemical modifications that affect your genes and help determine whether a trait — or a mutation — will be expressed. Even if you have a gene that indicates a higher risk for developing a certain type of cancer, that cancer might never develop if you take care of yourself. What better reason to eat right, exercise, minimize stress and avoid smoking?

When you need cancer care, we’re here for you. Request an appointment with our team:

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