The terms "genetics" and "genomics" are often used interchangeably but, in fact, they are different. Our genetics (genes) are inherited at birth and will pass through generations. They explain why a person has dark skin, blue eyes or red hair. In the cancer world, genetic testing looks for certain genetic mutations a person may have inherited through his or her family that may increase the chances of that person getting cancer.
For example, if a woman has a family history of breast cancer, she may want to consider genetic testing for the BRCA1 gene. Those who test positive for the BRCA1 gene have a higher chance of developing breast cancer.
Genomic testing, on the other hand, looks more closely at the cancer genes themselves, as well as their behaviors. Genomic testing can help determine why a tumor behaves the way it does, including how aggressive a cancer can be and whether the cancer has a higher chance of spreading to other parts of the body.
Understanding how the cancer is likely to act can help suggest a path to better treating the cancer. For example, if your provider sees that a mutation matches a known cancer cell defect, they may suggest a certain targeted therapy designed to attack that defect without causing harm to normal cells. This can have a positive impact on a person's cancer care.
Genetic and genomic testing is not for everyone. It is important to talk with your provider to determine if you would be a good candidate for either type of testing. For more information, visit: UrologyHealth.org/genomic
Alexander Kutikov, MD is the chief of the Division of Urologic Oncology at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia.