Prostate Cancer: What’s the Difference Between Hereditary and Biomarker Testing

Prostate Cancer: What’s the Difference Between Hereditary and Biomarker Testing?

Prostate Cancer: What’s the Difference Between Hereditary and Biomarker Testing? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What’s the difference between hereditary testing and biomarker testing? Dr. David Wise explains how biomarker testing and hereditary testing differ – and discusses the impact and potential risks of some mutations.

Dr. David Wise is Director of Genitourinary Medical Oncology at the Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Cancer Center at NYU Langone Health. Learn more about Dr. Wise.

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Dr. David Wise:

That’s a great question. So, hereditary genetic testing is a test that looks specifically to establish whether a person is born with a gene that predisposed them to develop that cancer, and therefore has two clear implications.  

If the test result is abnormal, then the patient was born with that gene. Therefore, other family members, first-degree relatives, may also have that gene, and that may predispose those other family members to the same cancer or to other cancers. For example, BRCA2 can predispose to the prostate cancer that the patient that we’re discussing has, but it can also predispose to breast or ovarian cancer or pancreas cancer. And if the patient has an abnormal BRCA2 gene, then their first-degree relatives have a 50 percent chance of having that gene and being predisposed to cancer, not necessarily having a guaranteed development of that cancer, but having a higher risk of developing that cancer.  

So, it has implications for family member testing or what we call cascade testing, but it also has potential implications depending on the gene. And we’re looking for, even if it’s a hereditary gene, it can still have implications for how to best treat or monitor that patient’s cancer. And so, that’s the hereditary genetic testing. Now, biomarker testing is a broader umbrella term, and it just refers to any information or test result that we collect that gives us information about how that patient is going to respond to treatment, which means a predictive result. So, it tells us potentially which treatment might work better or worse or what we call a general prognostic information.  

So, information about that patient’s…the important things to what that person is worried about: How long they’re going to live, how well they’re going to respond to treatment, how aggressive their cancer is going to be. So, that’s biomarker testing. Now, what I think is particularly confusing – and maybe I’ll shed light on this – is: Well, what’s the difference between somatic genetic testing and hereditary genetic testing?  

So, somatic genetic testing is actually testing that is focused purely on what genes were mutated in the prostate that promoted the development of that cancer. Abnormal test results on that test are not directly related to hereditary risk. Just because a patient’s cancer has mutated gene X does not mean that their family member has a predisposition to develop to having that gene. They’re completely unrelated. So, really, patients should have both types of genetic testing.  

But there are specific criteria for which patient qualifies for which type of test, and that’s a detailed conversation that needs to happen between the physician and the patient.