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Genetic testing

Genetic testing for lung cancer

Your doctor might offer you a procedure called ‘genetic testing’. To understand this a bit better, let’s talk a little bit about genetics.

Your entire body is made up of tiny building blocks called ‘cells’. Cells grow and multiply themselves and make proteins and other important things that help your body work normally.

Inside each cell is something called DNA.

DNA is like a set of instructions that tell your cells what to do. They tell the cell to make certain things, when to grow or multiply, when to move around, and even when it is time to die.1

Normally, your DNA helps keep your cells in a careful balance,2 so that they are multiplying and dying at a similar speed. But sometimes something goes wrong, and the DNA changes.

When this happens, cells can start making mistakes. For example, they might grow and multiply themselves too quickly, and end up making a lump called a tumour, which becomes a cancer.1

Why is it useful to know if I have a genetic change?

Genetic testing looks for these changes in your genes. If a test finds any, it might mean that some certain treatments might be right for you.

Since the early 2000s, modern cancer treatments called ‘targeted therapies’ or ‘precision therapies’ have been available. These can help manage the effects of the changed genes.3 You can learn more about these treatments here.

Genetic tests are usually done as part of a biopsy test (you can read more about biopsy tests here), so you might already have had one. But if you’re not sure or if you want to find out if a genetic test might be right for you, speak to your doctor.

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Deoxyribonucleic acid

  1. Cancer Research UK. Genes, DNA and cancer. 2020. Available from Last accessed August 2021.
  2. Cooper JP & Youle RJ. Curr Opin Cell Biol 2012; 24(6): 802–803.
  3. Agafonov RV et al. Front Mol Biosci 2015; 2: 27.