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Molecular Testing: What You Need to Know for Cancer Care


Technological advancements in modern medicine and laboratory testing have significantly moved the needle on cancer care. Healthcare teams have more information at their fingertips to guide decisions and treatment approaches and assist patients in making lifestyle changes sooner. One test that has replaced conventional methods and undergone rapid expansion in recent years is the molecular test.

What is a Molecular Test?

Genetic molecules in your body, called DNA and RNA, control your cell’s functions. Genetic molecules are arranged in genes. Multiple genes make up chromosomes. Molecular testing examines these molecules in your body for changes or abnormalities in a gene or chromosome that may lead to cancer. Molecular testing is known for its accuracy and can support your health and cancer care.

What is the Process for a Molecular Test?

Our cells contain our DNA and RNA. A lab technician collects a sample of blood, body fluid, or organ tissue that contain thousands of your body’s cells. The sample is examined under a microscope, and DNA and RNA are extracted from the cells. The molecules are examined with high-tech equipment. The report identifies the molecular changes and can recognize a potential health issue.

What is the Purpose of a Molecular Test?

There are various ways to use a molecular test, from diagnosing a common virus to understanding genetic conditions. In oncology and cancer care, molecular testing is mostly used to confirm a cancer diagnosis, help plan treatments, or indicate an increased genetic risk of disease.

Testing for a Diagnosis:

Molecular testing can be done on a biopsy or surgical resection of organ tissue to help diagnose some
types of cancer. Molecular testing can also predict whether cancer will return or spread to other parts of
the body.

Testing for Treatment Approaches:

Each person’s cancer has a unique pattern of molecular changes that provide a wealth of
information. Some molecular changes, called biomarkers, can predict how you might respond
to specific treatments. Molecular testing can help your doctor tailor your treatment plan based
on your genes, proteins, and substances in your body. This is personalized cancer care that
selects the right treatment for you. This type of testing and approach is more common for
those diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer, breast cancer, or colorectal cancer. [1]

Testing for Genetics:

An inherited gene alteration can sometimes cause cancer called a mutation. This mutation is passed on
throughout generations and greatly increases the risk of developing cancer for family members. For
example, mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes are linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.
Molecular testing is often used to test family members for these gene mutations and to determine if
there is a familial condition. Families with inherited cancer syndromes can be followed by the Queen’s
genetic counselors or in our QHS high-risk cancer syndrome clinic.

How Can I Receive a Molecular Test?

Speak with your healthcare and oncology team to determine if molecular testing is right for
you. Part of the Queen’s Health System is Hawaii’s largest locally owned and operated clinical
and genetic testing laboratory, to conveniently offer molecular testing for patients. Queen’s
also offers a high-risk and hereditary cancer clinic for patients with elevated risks of cancer or
genetic mutations. Click here to learn more about our testing or clinics at The Queen’s Health

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