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Frequently Asked
Questions (FAQs)

Do you have questions about cancer treatment at VA? See if your question is answered in our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) below. If you don't see your question here, please reach out to us at cancer@va.gov.

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Cancer and Cancer Resources at VA

What is cancer and how does it impact Veterans?

Cancer is a disease caused by the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in a part of the body. Cancer can result in harmful growths or tumors. It can start anywhere and spread to other parts of the body.

Approximately 56,000 Veterans are diagnosed with cancer every year in the VA system. For particular cancers diagnosed within VA, approximately 10,000 cases of prostate cancer, 7,700 cases of lung cancer, and 3,200 cases of bladder cancer are diagnosed each year in Veterans.

Where can I learn more about specific types of cancer?

Visit the Communications and Educational Tools section of our website to learn more about particular cancers and cancer screenings. More information can be found in VA's Veterans Health Library.

How does VA help cancer patients?

There are approximately 500 cancer specialists across the system to support Veterans' cancer care. Veterans have access to a continuum of treatment options. This includes traditional surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, precision oncology, Whole Health practices (acupuncture, massage, meditation, etc.), physical therapy, and counseling.

VA is also advancing the science of oncology in real time. Through clinical trial research with Veteran participants, VA researchers are learning more about cancer every day. Veterans are able to participate in clinical trials at any time during their cancer journey, giving them access to cutting-edge treatments and helping to advance cancer therapies. With 300 ongoing oncology research projects, new discoveries are happening constantly at VA. These learnings are rapidly funneled back into clinical practice, ensuring you are receiving the most up-to-date care available.

What is TeleOncology?

The National TeleOncology service (NTO) provides cancer care virtually to Veterans via an internet-connected device (computer, phone, tablet, etc.) in their home or local VA medical center. This allows VA cancer specialists around the country to provide care to Veterans no matter where they are located.

TeleOncology is available to patients who do not have access to the specialty cancer care they need. To find out if TeleOncology is an option for you, talk to your primary care provider.

How can I catch cancer early?

Catching cancer early can improve your chances of living longer with treatment. Keeping up with your routine cancer screenings can help catch, and even prevent, certain cancers. VA recommends routine cancer screenings for colon and rectal (colorectal), breast, cervical, and lung cancers. Learn more about cancer screenings and whether you're due for your next screening.

Precision Oncology

What is precision oncology?

Precision oncology uses your DNA and RNA to predict more accurately which cancer treatment strategies will work for you. Precision oncology tests sequence your genes. This helps identify drugs that can target the specific gene mutation causing your cancer. With precision oncology, VA is able to target cancer cells, protecting your body from radiation and other chemical/pharmaceutical therapies if those treatments can be avoided.

How does the National Precision Oncology Program benefit Veterans?

It helps Veterans get the most targeted treatment option for their individual tumor and cancer, potentially reducing side effects. The program ensures that all Veterans have access to the cutting-edge molecular tests that help their doctors decide the best treatments for their cancer.

Am I eligible to get tested?

If you are a Veteran receiving oncology care at a VA facility, have an advanced stage tumor or blood cancer, and can tolerate the therapies your doctor recommends, then your doctor may order the tests. Currently, Veterans who are being treated at a non-VA facility are not eligible for this program as we are unable to track patient care at a non-VA facility.

How do I get tested?

Your doctor will collect either a tissue or blood sample and submit it along with the lab request order for testing.

Who pays for testing?

Testing will be paid for by the National Precision Oncology Program. The tests are ordered by your doctor, sent to a lab for testing and the lab will submit the invoices directly to the VA National Oncology Program Office. As with all VA Programs, this will be re-evaluated annually.

How long does it take to get back the test results?

Test results can take one to two weeks to complete (depending on the test that was ordered) and will be returned to your doctor.

Am I eligible to get tested?

If you are a Veteran receiving oncology care at a VA facility and have an advanced stage tumor or blood cancer that is suitable for precision oncology approaches, you may benefit from these tests. Your doctor will determine whether you are able to tolerate the therapies before ordering these tests and is best suited to determine your eligibility based on your clinical history.

Currently, Veterans who are being treated at a non-VA facility are not eligible for this program as we are unable to track patient care at a non-VA facility.

Pharmacogenomics (PGx) Testing

What is genetic testing?

Genetic tests look for differences in your genetic makeup (DNA) that are linked to certain health conditions, physical traits, disease risk, or how you respond to medicines.

PGx tests can provide information for many commonly prescribed medications, but it does not cover all drugs. You may be taking other drugs for which the genes involved are not well understood yet. Your doctor will discuss the list of medicines covered by PGx testing with you.

What type of genetic test is this?

The VA offers pharmacogenomic (PGx) tests. PGx tests determine how you process or respond to medicines based on your genetics, allowing providers to better pick the dose or type of your medicines. The goal of using PGx testing is to decrease side effects and improve the beneficial effects of your medicines.
See: When One Size Does Not Fit All video.

How is pharmacogenomics pronounced?


How is PGx testing different from other genetic tests?

The PGx test mainly focuses on how your body processes or responds to medicines. It is not a test that tells you if you are likely to develop common diseases like heart disease or cancer. It is not a test that will tell you where your ancestors came from.

Will this PGx test show my risk for any diseases?

The PGx test may identify an increased risk for certain, uncommon, health conditions that were passed down to you from your parents. In this case, you and your provider will be informed, and your provider will talk to you about what (if any) next steps are recommended.

How do PGx tests help my provider make better decisions when prescribing medicine?

PGx results help your provider better understand how your body processes or responds to many common medicines. They use this information to treat you, as an individual. Along with other medical information, providers use PGx test results to determine if there is a better dose or type of medicine for you.

Can VA PGx testing affect my Service Connection?

No. Genetic test results cannot be used to deny or reduce a Veteran’s service-connected benefits

Is the VA PGx test Available to me?

Who can get tested?

Currently, Veterans who receive their health care at a participating VA facility offering PGx tests can get the VA PGx test.

Is this test available at my VA?

All VAs are invited to participate in this program and testing will be rolled out in stages to participating VA sites nationwide. For a current list of VA sites that offer the VA PGx test, visit the Site Listing on this website.

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What does this test cost?

There is no cost to Veterans for the PGx tests offered through the VA PGx program. Standard co-payments for regular provider visits and medicines prescribed by your providers are not covered by the VA PGx program.

How Do I Get a VA PGx Test?

Who do I contact to get PGx testing ordered?

Please talk with your VA provider(s) about this test. They can explain the test, answer your questions, and if you agree, order the test for you.

How do I get the test done?

The VA lab draws a small blood sample and sends it to the lab for testing.

Is the test performed at the VA?

The blood draw is done at the VA. The VA PGx program may work with a non-VA lab to process results.

Are there risks with PGx testing?

The physical risks of testing are like other tests that require a blood sample. These risks include fainting and pain or bruising at the site of the puncture. It is possible that the treatment recommendations based on the test results may include medicines that are more expensive or not preferred by the VA. Be sure to discuss these issues with your provider.

How long does the test take?

It may take up to 2 weeks for results to be available for you and your provider.

What Happens With my VA PGx Test Results?

Who will have access to the test results?

Your VA provider that ordered your PGx test will receive your test results. The results will also be stored in your VA medical record for all your VA health care providers to review. As with all laboratory vendors, the testing lab also keeps copies of the genetic test results (your DNA and blood sample are destroyed, however). We will also send a copy of your test results to you in the mail. If you have providers outside the VA, you may want to share results with them.

Who will talk to me about my results?

Your provider who ordered the test may talk to you about results and answer questions you may have. If they can’t answer your questions, they may direct you to another provider who can.

How will my PGx test results be used?

Your test results tell providers only part of the story. Other things like your age, overall health, other medicines you take, and body size also affect how your body responds to medicines. Your provider will use all these factors to prescribe the most appropriate medicines and doses for you.

What should I do with my test results?

PGx test results can be complex. Talk with your provider about questions or concerns. If you see more than one provider, please share your test results with your other providers. This is especially helpful if a provider starts a new medicine for you or if you get care outside the VA.

Privacy, Limits, Family, and more

Is this a research study?

No, this is not a research study. This test is like other labs, such as cholesterol and blood counts, ordered by your provider. The test results are intended to be used as part of your healthcare.

How is my PGx information protected?

Your PGx test results are protected in the VA medical record and cannot be shared outside VA without your permission unless there is a court order. If testing is done by a non-VA lab, they need to follow the same privacy rules to protect your information as the VA.

How long can my PGx results be used in my medical care?

PGx test results do not change over time, so for most patients, repeat testing is not needed. We’ll update your VA medical record with any new information. If your provider thinks you need to be tested again, they will talk with you.

What are limits of PGx testing?

Genetics tells us only part of the story. Other factors like age, overall health, other medicines you take, and body size also affect how you respond to medicine. The VA PGx test only checks certain genes that we know affect selected medicines. There may be other medicines that you are taking that are affected by genes we do not test for.

Can my family members get tested?

Testing through the VA PGx program is only available to VA patients. However, other types of PGx testing are available outside the VA. If your family member is interested in testing, they should talk to their provider.

How does this program differ from the Million Veteran Program (MVP)?

The Million Veteran Program (MVP) is a research study that aims to better understand how genes affect health. The VA PGx test program is a clinical test used to improve medicine prescribing for you. You can participate in MVP research and get PGx testing if you choose.

Didn't see your question?

Email us at cancer@va.gov to ask your question. Please allow 5-7 business days for a response.

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