• You can test yourself at home to see if you're at risk of getting cancer

    By: Craig Lucie


    ATLANTA - The FDA has approved at-home genetic testing kits to see if you are at risk of getting certain types of cancer. 

    Channel 2’s Craig Lucie talked with a local woman who says her kit potentially saved her life.

    The take-home genetic testing kits are very popular.

    You send off your DNA, then you get a report back showing your genetic makeup.

    In this case, though, a local woman found she had a high risk of getting cancer and her genetic counselor wants people to know if you do a kit, you need to go one step further to make sure you understand the results.

    “It potentially saved my life,” Debra Lesser said.


    Lesser is one of thousands who have taken in-home genetic testing kits, like 23andMe, and her test showed something so concerning, she wants others to be aware.

    “I tested positive for a mutation, which means my risk of getting cancer is much higher than the average woman,” said Lesser.

    Lesser took her 23andMe report to Northside Hospital’s Hereditary Cancer Program to have genetic counselor Katie Lang take a closer look.

    “The recommendation was that I have MRIs alternating with mammograms every six months,” Lesser said.

    Lang explained something every woman should know about breast cancer related genes or BCRAs.

    “Women with BCRA 1 mutations have a very high risk of developing both breast and ovarian cancer,” she said.

    With that kind of information, and after two years of more tests, Lesser didn’t want to take a chance and had a hysterectomy.

    “Ultimately I decided to have a mastectomy with reconstruction,” Lesser said.

    Lang says you don’t have a cancer diagnosis, you get risk information to help people understand what the implications options are.

    She also says when you get your genetic report back, you only understand part of what makes you you.

    “For most conditions, genetics is just one piece, an important piece, but one piece of the puzzle,” Lang said.

    Recently, the FDA allowed 23andMe, which is one of the biggest companies of this type, to allow cancer predisposition tests for the first time. 

    “A lot of times ovarian cancer is detected, it’s already too late. So being able to have genetic testing like this and take care of it before it hits, potentially saved my life,” Lesser said.

    Lang and the staff at Northside Hospital say those who test negative need to know that at-home tests usually cover only three mutations related to breast cancer.

    Genetic counselors say there are thousands of other genetic mutations linked to cancer.

    If someone has a strong family history of cancer, they recommend that you consult a medical professional who can find out if there are still cancer risks.

    Next Up: