A Guide to Genomic Testing for Cancer Patients and Families Including Three Free Programs

A Guide to Genomic Testing for Cancer Patients and Families S
This page was originally published September 28, 2023 and updated June 1, 2024.

Cancer is a complex disease, and understanding all the aspects can be overwhelming. One of the advancements in cancer treatment that you should know about is genomic testing. This guide will help you understand what it is, why it’s important, and how it can help in your treatment decisions and provide you with three programs that offer no-cost testing for families with financial need. Please do not let finances keep you from this valuable testing. Reach out today for the help you need. ❤️

What is Genomic Testing?

Genomic testing, also known as genetic testing or molecular profiling, is a type of medical test that identifies changes in chromosomes, genes, or proteins that can cause genetic diseases like cancer. These tests can provide information about your cancer’s unique genetic makeup, which can then be used to tailor your treatment plan.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has helpful information but essentially genomic testing investigates the genome – the complete set of DNA within a single cell in an organism – to identify any anomalies or alterations. The test is conducted by examining samples of your blood, skin, or other tissue. These samples are then scrutinized for various types of genetic changes such as mutations, which are changes in the DNA sequence; deletions or duplications of DNA segments; and translocations, where pieces of DNA from one chromosome have moved to another. These genetic changes can be inherited or acquired and can drastically impact how a cell functions. In the context of cancer, genomic testing can reveal specific genetic changes that are driving the growth and development of the tumor. This information can then be used to select treatments that are more likely to target the cancer’s specific genetic alterations and potentially result in a better response to treatment.

Why is Genomic Testing Important?

According to the NCI, Genomic testing is essential for two main reasons:

Personalized Treatment: The test results can help your healthcare team understand which treatments might work best for your specific cancer type. Some cancers respond well to certain medications due to their genetic makeup, while others do not. Knowing this can help avoid unnecessary treatments and side effects.
With the advent of genomic testing, the concept of personalized treatment has gained significant traction in the healthcare sector, particularly in oncology. Personalized treatment, sometimes referred to as precision medicine, involves tailoring therapies to a patient’s specific genetic make-up, leading to more targeted and effective treatment strategies. This approach shifts the treatment paradigm from a ‘one-size-fits-all’ method to an individual-centric approach.

In the context of cancer, genomic testing helps oncologists identify specific genetic alterations within cancer cells that may be responsible for the disease’s initiation and progression. These alterations can frequently serve as ‘targets’ for anti-cancer drugs. Consequently, if a patient’s cancer cells harbor a particular genetic alteration for which a targeted therapy exists, a personalized treatment plan can be designed to specifically attack the cancer cells, sparing healthy cells.

This tailored approach has been shown to increase the effectiveness of cancer treatment, decrease side effects, and improve patients’ overall quality of life. For example, certain forms of breast cancer are driven by overexpression of the HER2 protein. Genomic testing can identify this overexpression, and HER2-targeted therapies can then be initiated, yielding significantly better outcomes than traditional chemotherapy.

Overall, personalized treatment using genomic testing represents a significant advancement in cancer treatment, offering hope for more effective and tolerable treatment options. As our understanding of genomics continues to expand, so too will the potential for personalized cancer therapies.

Predicting Risk: The American Cancer Society has research that indicates for some cancers, genomic testing can also help predict your risk of recurrence or the likelihood of developing a new cancer.
Genomic testing can be a powerful tool in identifying patients with a high risk of recurrence or developing a new cancer. The genetic changes identified through genomic testing not only influence the behavior and growth of existing tumors, but they can also indicate an inherited predisposition to cancer. Certain mutations, such as those in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, significantly increase the risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. If these mutations are identified through genomic testing, preventive measures can be taken to reduce cancer risk or detect it at an early stage when it is more treatable. Similarly, in patients who have been treated for cancer, genomic testing can be used to predict the likelihood of cancer recurrence. If a high risk is identified, increased surveillance and additional treatments can be undertaken to prevent or mitigate a recurrence. Therefore, genomic testing provides a proactive, preventive approach to cancer care, allowing patients and healthcare providers to stay one step ahead of the disease.

How Can Genomic Testing Help in Treatment Decisions?

When your doctor has detailed information about the genetic changes in your cancer cells, they can choose therapies specifically designed to target those changes. This approach, known as targeted therapy, can be more effective and cause fewer side effects than traditional treatments.

For example, if genomic testing reveals that your cancer cells have a specific mutation that makes them susceptible to a certain drug, your doctor might recommend that drug as part of your treatment plan.

Moreover, genomic testing can also identify genetic changes that indicate your cancer is resistant to certain treatments. This is equally important in guiding treatment decisions, as it helps avoid the use of ineffective therapies and the unnecessary side effects associated with them. For instance, mutations in the KRAS gene can make colorectal cancer resistant to certain types of targeted therapy. If such mutations are identified through genomic testing, those treatments can be ruled out, saving time and resources that can be directed towards more promising therapeutic options.

In addition to guiding the selection of targeted therapies, genomic testing can also inform decisions regarding the use of immunotherapies – treatments that harness the power of the body’s immune system to fight cancer. Some genomic changes can make cancer cells more visible to the immune system, making immunotherapy a potentially effective treatment option. For example, tumors with a high mutational burden – a high number of mutations – are often more responsive to immunotherapy as they produce a large number of abnormal proteins that can be recognized and targeted by the immune system.

Furthermore, genomic testing can also assist in determining the prognosis of the disease, providing valuable information on how aggressive the cancer is likely to be or how well it might respond to treatment. This information can be crucial in decisions regarding the intensity and timing of treatment.

Genomic testing plays a pivotal role in modern cancer care, influencing treatment decisions at multiple levels. By identifying the unique genetic changes driving a patient’s cancer, it enables the design of a personalized treatment plan that is more likely to be effective and well-tolerated.

Financial Assistance Programs to Help Afford Testing

The cost of genomic testing can be a concern, but there are several financial assistance programs available to help:

Your Insurance

First, check with your insurance provider. Many health insurance companies cover the cost of genomic testing for certain types of cancer. Your insurance coverage plays a crucial role when it comes to affording genomic testing. Depending upon your individual policy, your insurance may cover a significant portion of the cost. It’s important to contact your insurance company directly and ask about your coverage. Some key questions to consider are:

  • Does your plan cover genomic testing?
  • Are there certain conditions for this coverage, for instance, is it only for specific types of cancer or stages of the disease?
  • Will you need pre-authorization for these tests?
  • How much will you need to pay out-of-pocket?

Keep in mind that insurance policies can be complex and might require some time to fully understand. If you’re finding it difficult to navigate your policy, consider seeking help from a patient advocate or a financial counselor at your hospital.

Remember, understanding your insurance coverage can provide a clearer picture of your potential out-of-pocket costs and can help you manage your budget effectively as you navigate your cancer treatment journey.

Three Free Patient Assistance Programs

Some national organizations offer patient assistance programs to help cover the cost of genomic testing. Many testing labs also have financial counselors who can assist you in understanding your insurance coverage as well as various financial assistance programs that they may offer. Therefore, don’t hesitate to reach out to these resources to better understand your options.

Patient Assistance Programs (PAPs) are initiatives often established by testing labs or pharmaceutical companies to aid those who cannot afford the cost of healthcare services, including genomic testing. They are designed to provide financial relief to patients who meet certain eligibility requirements.

Eligibility for these programs can vary, but they typically take into account factors such as income level, insurance status, and medical need. Some PAPs are specifically directed towards uninsured or underinsured patients, while others might focus on those with certain types of cancer or in specific stages of the disease.

To apply for these programs, you generally need to fill out an application form, providing information about your financial situation and medical condition. This process can sometimes be complex, so don’t hesitate to seek help from a healthcare provider, social worker, or a representative from the PAP itself. They can guide you through the application process, ensuring you provide all the necessary information.

Exact Sciences’ Genomic Access Program (GAP)

Exact Sciences, a well-known company in the field of cancer diagnostics, runs a Genomic Access Program (GAP) aiming to ensure that patients have access to genomic testing, regardless of their financial situation. The GAP can help cover the cost of testing entirely or significantly reduce it based on the patient’s financial circumstances and insurance status. Exact Sciences’ commitment to patient care is evident in this program, as they strive to ensure that financial constraints do not impede access to potentially life-saving genomic information. If you’re considering genomic testing and concerned about the cost, it’s worth exploring Exact Sciences’ Genomic Access Program as a viable option.

Interpace Biosciences Molecular Testing Financial Assistance Program

Interpace Biosciences is another key player in the field of cancer diagnostics that offers a Financial Assistance Program designed to make molecular testing more accessible. Recognizing that the financial burden of testing can be significant, their program aims to reduce out-of-pocket expenses for patients who meet certain eligibility requirements. Much like other assistance programs, eligibility is often based on income level, insurance coverage, and the medical necessity of the testing. Interpace Biosciences is committed to ensuring that every patient has access to the potentially life-altering information that molecular testing can provide, regardless of their financial circumstances. If you’re considering molecular testing but are worried about the cost, it may be beneficial to explore Interpace Biosciences’ Financial Assistance Program as a potential avenue for financial relief.

Foundation Medicine Financial Assistance Program

Foundation Medicine, a leading company in comprehensive genomic profiling, providentially offers a Financial Assistance Program to aid patients who might be financially strained by the cost of genomic testing. This program aims to make comprehensive genomic profiling more accessible by reducing out-of-pocket expenses for patients who meet certain eligibility criteria. The foundation takes into account the patient’s income level, insurance coverage, and the medical necessity of the test when determining eligibility. Foundation Medicine’s commitment to patient care is evident in their endeavor to ensure that financial hardship does not hinder access to potentially transformative genomic information. If the cost is a concern for you when considering comprehensive genomic profiling, Foundation Medicine’s Financial Assistance Program is certainly worth considering.

Remember, each program has its own set of rules, so it’s important to understand them fully before applying. If accepted, these programs can significantly reduce or even completely cover the cost of genomic testing, making precision medicine a viable option for many more patients. Patient Assistance Programs can be a valuable resource when navigating the financial aspects of cancer treatment. If you’re considering genomic testing, exploring these programs might open doors to affordable, personalized treatment plans.

Clinical Trials

Sometimes, genomic testing is covered as part of a clinical trial. Ask your doctor if there are any relevant trials you could participate in or visit the National Cancer Institute Clinical Trial Search Tool to locate trials of interest to discuss with your care team. Clinical trials play a vital role in the progression of cancer treatment options, often including genomic testing as part of their protocols. These trials are research studies performed in people that aim to evaluate a medical, surgical, or behavioral intervention. They are the primary way researchers determine if a new treatment, like a new drug or diet or medical device (for instance, a pacemaker) is safe and effective in people.

When it comes to genomic testing, being a part of a clinical trial can be advantageous. Many trials include comprehensive genomic testing in their protocol at no cost to the patient. This can save a significant amount of money, especially for those who may not have coverage or adequate coverage for genomic testing.

Clinical trials do more than just provide access to the latest treatment options, including genomic testing. They help improve the standard of care for all patients in the future. In a sense, participating in a clinical trial contributes to cancer research in a meaningful way, paving the path for future advancements in genomic medicine and cancer treatment.

However, it’s important to note that clinical trials may have certain criteria for participation, known as eligibility criteria. These criteria can relate to your type and stage of cancer, previous treatment history, age, and overall health. Your oncologist can guide you in finding clinical trials that are a good match for your individual situation.

Remember, as with any decision regarding your treatment plan, it’s important to discuss the potential benefits and drawbacks with your healthcare team. They can provide insight into whether joining a clinical trial aligns with your treatment goals and lifestyle. Ultimately, the decision to join a clinical trial is a personal one, and it should be made after careful consideration and discussion with your healthcare team.

Discussing Genomic Testing with Your Oncologist: Helpful Tips

Communication with your oncologist can potentially shape the trajectory of your cancer treatment. Here are some tips to facilitate the discussion about genomic testing:

  1. Educate Yourself: Before your appointment, take some time to research genomic testing. Understand its purpose, benefits, and potential downsides. This will help you to ask informed questions.
  2. Prepare Your Questions: Write down all your questions and concerns about genomic testing. Some may include: How could it influence your treatment plan? What side effects should you anticipate? What is the testing process?
  3. Express Your Preferences: If you have preferences about your treatment, such as avoiding certain side-effects or prioritizing certain outcomes, make them known. Your doctor can help you understand how genomic testing might align with these preferences.
  4. Ask About Costs and Insurance: Genomic testing can be expensive. Discuss with your oncologist about the cost of the test, whether it’s covered by insurance, and if there are financial aid options available.
  5. Ensure You Understand: Don’t shy away from asking your doctor to explain any terms or concepts you find confusing. It’s important you fully understand the implications of genomic testing for your treatment.

Open discussion with your oncologist about genomic testing can make your journey through cancer treatment more personalized and potentially more effective. By working together as a team, you and your healthcare provider can make informed decisions that are tailored to your unique needs. With the advancements in genomic technology, we have entered an era of precision medicine where cancer treatment is no longer a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, it focuses on individual characteristics of each patient’s cancer, leading to better outcomes and improved quality of life.

Don’t hesitate to discuss genomic testing with your oncologist – it may just hold the key to unlocking the most effective treatment plan for you. Understanding genomic testing and its role in cancer treatment can empower you to make informed decisions about your care. With this knowledge, you can work with your healthcare team to choose the best treatment plan for you. Don’t let the fear of cost prevent you from discussing genomic testing with your oncologist. There are resources available to help make it more affordable and accessible. Remember, personalized medicine is all about tailoring treatments to fit your unique needs and characteristics, and genomic testing plays a significant role in achieving that goal. ❤️

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