When Leslie Anderson was 18 she lost her mother to breast cancer. Years later, her sister was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. It left Anderson wondering whether all the women in her family were susceptible.
“That was just an absolute sign that we all needed to be tested,” says Anderson.
It meant playing cancer detective, something that wasn’t an option when her mom was diagnosed.
“She passed in 1980 and the BRCA gene wasn’t identified until 90’s and genetic testing wasn’t really available until the late 90’s,” says Anderson.
“We do a family tree and determine a criterium for genetic testing,” says Mary Ann Orlang, with Lee Memorial Health System.
Orlang is a genetic counselor who facilitates testing at the Regional Cancer Center.
“This one they actually have to do it in front of me because it is DNA testing. It just authenticates that it is their DNA,” says Orlang.
The most frequent test looks for BRCA, also known as the breast cancer gene.
“The analysis determines a women’s risk for genetically-linked breast cancer or hereditary breast cancer. Not only breast cancer but also ovarian cancer,” says Orlang.
From this location, they provide counseling and gene testing for a variety of cancers, not just breast. Others include forms of gynecological, gastrointestinal, endocrine and melanoma skin cancer. Results help patients assess their risk.
“Knowing your risk gives you the power to do something about it,” says Orlang.
Anderson and two of her three sisters tested positive for BRCA 1. She underwent a double mastectomy and had her ovaries removed to greatly cut her cancer risk.
“It’s just amazing they can come up with this information and break down on a DNA genetic level to find out what you’re at a risk for,” says Anderson.
Looking into their genes, may give people the chance to break a family tradition.