With so much attention paid to cancer risk, it turns out for some people, cancer is in their genes - which is why many people are turning to genetic counselors.
“We do a family tree and if there’s a lot of cancers in their family and they meet the criteria, I explain to them what the genetic testing is, what it can do, what can we find out. And then they decide whether or not they want to pursue testing,” says Mary Ann Orlang, genetic counselor with Lee Memorial Health System.
As researchers continue unlocking clues in the DNA, genetic counselors are now looking for markers that reveal risk. Notable examples are the BRCA mutations, which can be tested through the Regional Cancer Center.
“Yes, we can either do a blood sample or we can do saliva. This kit happens to have mouthwash with it to help collect the buckle cells or cheek cells,” says Orlang.
These markers could make the difference between life and death. Genetic testing is giving many women a roadmap for care. If they have BRCA mutations, many will have surgery to remove their breasts, ovaries and for the most part, their risk.
“In your lifetime you have 60-90% chance of developing breast cancer. And in terms of ovarian cancer the numbers are somewhere around 30-35%. It’s certainly significant when you think about the average risk for a woman developing breast cancer would be somewhere around 1.5% in their lifetime,” says Dr. Frank Rodriguez, oncologist on Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.
Based on successes in breast, ovarian, prostate and colorectal cancers, there is more movement in identifying cancer-linked DNA.
“There are so many genes and so many proteins and the way that your genetic code has so many moving parts, there’s plenty of room for people who want to do research,” says Dr. Rodriguez.
Meaning someday each one of us may know our individual cancer risks.