Your Health: The Role Genetic Counseling Can Play in the Fight Against Breast Cancer
Published October 16th, 2013
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Quest Diagnostics, the largest medical testing company in the United States, announced this week they will offer BRCA gene testing in looking for breast and ovarian cancers.
New research continues to shed light on the role genes play in determining your cancer risk, and genetic counselors can offer valuable information for women facing very difficult decisions.
Knowing you could be more at risk for certain cancers is a breakthrough of modern medicine. With so many treatment options, genetic counselors are becoming a valuable asset to women as they decide how to battle their cancer.
"I had just mailed out wedding invitations," J.C. Braithwaite says.
It happened 10 years ago, but she still remembers the exact moment she was told something she never wanted to hear.
"It was the most surreal thing," she says, "It was like I'm sitting going 'I have breast cancer' - I was 32."
She soon got married but there was no honeymoon, the newlywed immediately began chemo and radiation treatment at UF Health in Gainesville.
After her battle with breast cancer, she decided to go to a genetic counselor, where she received another shock.
"I was really, really shaken, it was almost like a second cancer diagnosis," Braithwaite says.
She tested positive for a mutation of the BRCA1 gene.
Research shows mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes can lead to an increased risk for several types of cancer in both men and women; but they're better known for an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer in women.
"Overall, it's up to an 80 percent lifetime risk to develop breast cancer, and up to a 40 to 50 percent risk to develop ovarian cancer in their lifetime," says Certified Genetic Counselor Lisa Brown.
The mutations are relatively rare in the general population. Genetic counselors usually meet with patients who are already identified as a high risk.
"We rely on family history and the personal presentation of the cancer to give us clues," Brown says.
Knowing she was at an increased risk helped Braithwaite decide to have a double mastectomy after finishing her cancer treatment. More recently, she chose to have a hysterectomy after giving birth to her daughter, Emily. She credits genetic counseling for making her battle with cancer a success story.
"Here I am 10 years later," Braithwaite says, "I know that if I wouldn't have had that, I would've had the lumpectomy and gotten on with my life only to develop another cancer, not definitely, but with those odds, those aren't really great statistics."
Brown says a lot of patients are concerned that insurance companies may discriminate against them if genetic testing uncovers any problems, but the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act passed in 2009 makes it illegal for health insurance providers to consider any genetic information when deciding a person's eligibility or coverage.
For more information about genetic counseling services, and to find a genetic counselor in your area, visit: www.nsgc.org/
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