Using genetic testing to prevent cancer

Fairfax, Va. (WUSA9) -- October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and new advances in genomics may save many lives. Learning that you are genetically prone to cancer can be very hard to accept. Andrea Roane introduces us to a woman whose family is facing hard decisions as they deal with the BRCA gene mutation.

Forty-two-year old Maria Cerow was diagnosed with Breast Cancer in February. "It was a regular breast exam with an ob-gyn, it was a physical exam and the lump was felt," says Cerow.

She found out that she has a BRCA gene mutation, as a result family is facing hard decisions.

Cerow says, "It can be scary, it can be scary knowing that when you have it, because I feel it's more of a, not 'if i'm going to get cancer,' but more of a 'when'.

Which prompted her to make decisions along the path of her treatment. She completed chemotherapy, had a double mastectomy and radiation is pending.

Genetic Counselor Sarah Ruppert of Inova Translational Medicine Institute is helping Maria and her family understand their options since the BRCA gene mutation is among them. Genetics in relation to overall health risks is a very complicated topic for most people who would benefit from a genetic test.

Ruppert says, "It's my job to give information to the patient in a way that they can understand. They put it in thier own context. And then they can make decisions about whether they want to learn the information that a genetic test could give them."

Experts look at personal medical history, age, family history, and ethnicity to determine if someone is a good candidate for genetic testing.

"We do talk about a lot of the medical interventions that are appropriate if they test positive for a gene mutation. And then support them in making decisions once the have their test result," adds Ruppert.

Which is very helpful to Maria and her family. She wishes she had this information earlier in life, and urges those who can benefit from a test to go get it.

Cerow says, "Some people would rather not know. But I think knowing can be very powerful, like they say, 'knowledge is power'. And what you can do to prevent it, because a lot of money and time and efort has gone into cancer research and treatment."

Maria's, daughter was tested for the BRCA gene mutation and thankfully, she tested negative.


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