Area residents with a strong family history of cancer are taking advantage of the genetic testing program offered at SoutheastHEALTH’s Cancer Center.
Genetic tests look for specific mutations, or abnormalities, in a person’s genes that are linked to various cancers. It is a simple blood test that examines 28 genes that are linked to eight types of cancer – breast, colon, endometrial, gastric, melanoma, ovarian, pancreatic and prostate. In some cases, samples of body fluids such as saliva or tissue sample also may be obtained.
The test, which is generally covered by insurance, is recommended for anyone who has a family history of cancer or if a family member has developed cancer at a young age. In addition, if a mother, grandmother or first-degree relative (aunt or sister) has had ovarian or breast cancer, family members – women and men – automatically qualify for genetic testing.
At the Southeast Cancer Center, genetic testing begins with meeting nurse navigator Beth Altenthal, RN, BSN, to discuss family medical history to confirm a risk of a hereditary cancer, Altenthal shows patients a short video about genetic testing. She then connects the patient by phone direct to a tele-genetic counselor who privately answers any questions patients may have. Southeast Cancer Center is the first in the region with this counseling option.
So far this year, 88 patients have come to the Southeast Cancer Center to request genetic counseling. Of those, nine patients were found to have a gene mutation.
Altenthal emphasizes that not everyone who tests positive for a gene mutation will actually develop cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, about 5 to 10 percent of all cancers are strongly linked to an inherited gene mutation. “That’s why it’s important to discuss results of any test with a genetic counselor,” Altenthal says. “Having a discussion with a genetic counselor can help gauge the risk and discuss preventive measures before moving forward with any medical decision.”