All In The Family

Image… Or is it? When I was diagnosed with breast cancer 3 1/2 years ago, I learned that breast cancer runs in my father’s side of the family. I had never known this, probably because people in my grandparent’s generation never discussed such private body parts, um I mean, topics. Problem is, though, my father is an only child and men do not typically get breast cancer, so knowing the degree to which I might or might not be predisposed to breast or ovarian cancer was a bit in question.
Was it a random fluke or was it an environmentally caused cancer? Was it my own body’s lack of sufficient immunity? Was it indeed a genetic mutation in my DNA?                                              I think every woman who receives a cancer diagnosis yearns for that answer. It hangs over us like a dark cloud, partly because we think, perhaps, that if we know what caused our cancer we could prevent it from happening again. Well, as it turns out that may be partly true.

Women who test positive for the breast cancer gene(s) BRCA 1 or 2 are at a ten fold risk for breast and ovarian cancer over the general population. They tend to get these cancers under the age of 50, and they have a 50/50 chance of passing the genes onto their children. In the case of ovarian cancer, because there are no screening tests for the disease, by the time it is detected it is often in latter stages. With the advancement of technology it has recently been determined that additional women, initially deemed negative for the gene mutation like myself, can potentially test positive with a new test, called BART. ( BRCA large analysis rearrangement test) 3 1/2 years ago the genetic counselors told me that in years to come more advancements in testing would come available and this is beginning to happen now.

With my recent gyn ovarian symptoms and consideration for a hysterectomy, my oncologist recommended that I be tested. Today was the appointment for that test along with a lengthy counseling session with the geneticist. It was very educational and while the likelihood of a positive result being very slim, she has seen some surprising twists in other patient outcomes. It can have huge repercussions, so having the results is important to me. Not just for me, as far as surgical decisions going forward, but for my children, their children, my siblings and their children. Gone are the days when people were denied insurability based on genetics alone. Times are changing and some circles are realizing that knowledge is power and it is actually saving lives!!

While waiting for my blood draw I ran into a survivor friend. She also originally tested negative for the genes. She also is in a high risk category. When I told her what I was doing there she was shocked to learn of this new test for the first time and wants to see if it is something she should pursue as well. The problem with a statistic (which we often hear quoted) that only 7-10% of breast cancers are genetic, is that it is only based on those who <b>get</b> tested! If more women got tested would those numbers actually be higher? We won’t know until insurance companies agree to test more women and results are made known. In the meantime, survivors need to stay on top of the leading news in research and testing and press their doctors to advocate for answers to that burning question… Is it in my DNA?

One thought on “All In The Family

  1. everything you’ve written is so true, and it’s a wonderful service that you do by writing these updates. In an effort to get the message to as many as possible, I’m sharing your post of my Facebook (if I can get the darned thing to work!).

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