Genetic Testing for Specific Cancers

By Britney Glaser - bio | email

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - If you could know that you carried the gene making you more susceptible to certain types of cancer, would you want to know?  In this Healthcast, we explain how genetic testing is making this knowledge possible.

There are over 30,000 genes in the human body - and two of those genes, BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 can actually identify whether or not a person is at a substantially higher risk for developing breast or ovarian cancer.  "It's been found that if these genes have a certain mutation, they cannot function and it markedly increases a patient's risk for developing breast and ovarian cancer," says Dr. Thomas Strong, a general surgeon at Lake Charles Memorial Hospital.

It's because these two inherited genes are tumor suppressors, and if one has a mutation, it cannot suppress the development and growth of breast or ovarian cancer. Now, doctors can test women and men to find out if they carry this mutation.  "Genetic testing specifically for breast cancer is a blood test that's often done, depending on certain risk factors patients may have," says Dr. Strong.

Those most at risk are women with a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer, a previous diagnosis of ovarian or breast cancer, and men with breast cancer.  Dr. Strong says, "At a minimum, if you're positive for the mutation, you should have increased surveillance, which means be sure that you have a mammogram yearly - depending on what age you're diagnosed, you might start that as early as 25."

There are also surgical options for those testing positive.

If a woman is found to have the genetic mutation, there is an 80 percent likelihood of developing cancer and her risk of getting ovarian cancer is about 50 percent.  But having the gene does not mean you will get these types of cancer.  Dr. Strong says, "Any patient who's positive doesn't necessarily mean they are going to get breast or ovarian cancer - it just increases their risk."

Dr. Strong says this type of genetic testing offers hope in the medical field to possibly one day finding a cure to many diseases.  "Multiple diseases will likely be found to have a genetic basis that can be identified early and perhaps there will even be therapies that can reverse the genetic defect and eliminate the risk for that patient for that specific disease," says Dr. Strong.

*To learn more about genetic testing for breast and ovarian cancer, you can call Memorial's Breast Health Center at 480-7222.