Prenatal Genetic Tests Can Reveal Some Truly Unexpected News for Moms: Cancer

I knew I wanted as much data as I could possibly gather about my babies as early on in my twin pregnancy as possible. That's why I opted to have the rather invasive CVS procedure—that's short for chorionic villus sampling—in my first trimester, to learn about any possible chromosomal abnormalities or genetic disorders. I was also 36, and in that annoyingly named category known as "advanced maternal age," so I knew the risks were real.

Fortunately, I got the all-clear a (tense) week or so after my testing and breathed a massive sigh of relief. Through the testing, I also learned my babies' genders very early on—which was a neat bonus.

Even for people like me, who knew all along it was a route they wanted to take, genetic testing is totally nerve-wracking. But now, it turns out that some pregnant women are learning even more troubling—and totally unexpected—news from certain prenatal genetic test options than they ever expected.

I just read a fascinating story in BuzzFeed that discussed how, after having cerain prenatal genetic testing done, some women are learning that they have cancer. Can you imagine?

The story starts out with the tale of a 40-year-old mom-to-be who took a test known as MaterniT21 PLUS to screen for genetic disorders when she was 10 weeks pregnant. But when the results came back, her ob-gyn had to share the awful news that the expecting mom might have cancer. Neither the doctor or the mom-to-be was prepared for such news. But the test—which is administered in the form of a simple blood draw—is capable of unearthing genetic issues not just in the DNA of the developing fetus, but those in the mother's DNA, too.

The MaterniT21 PLUS test was the first noninvasive prenatal test to be available in the marketplace in 2011, and Sequenom, the company that performs the test, has since sold more than 400,000 of them, according to BuzzFeed. (There are five other companies with similar offerings.) It turns out 40 of those MaterniT21 PLUS tests have revealed cancer in the mom, and 26 of those cases were confirmed. (It turns out that the mom in the BuzzFeed article had colon cancer; she subsequently had surgery and is now symptom-free. And, thankfully, she delivered a healthy baby boy.)

It's almost unfathomably terrifying to have to process that kind of news when you're pregnant—although pregnant cancer patients and their fetuses alike can have good outcomes. Still, I'd want to know. Would you?

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Alesandra Dubin is a new twin mom. She's also a Los Angeles-based writer and the founder of home and travel blog Homebody in Motion. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Google+ and Twitter.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

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