Know Your Genes: How family history affects your future
Cancer runs in Patricia Lees’ family. Her sister died of breast cancer at 37 and her father’s mother and sister also had breast cancer. These circumstances, coupled with the fact that she has two daughters in their 20s, led Patricia to schedule an appointment for Community Medical Center’s Cancer Risk Evaluation Program. Patricia, a registered nurse, is Administrative Director of Perioperative Services at Community Medical Center, so she was keenly aware of the importance of confronting her risk for cancer.
The Breast and Ovarian Cancer Risk Evaluation Program provides personalized cancer risk assessments, genetic counseling and genetic testing. Located within the J. Phillip Citta Regional Cancer Center, the program also helps women protect their health by creating tailored plans for cancer risk reduction and cancer screening based on each woman’s level of risk.
The program was first developed at the University of Pennsylvania’s Abramson Cancer Center. As a member of the Penn Cancer Network, Community Medical Center is able to provide patients with access to this program as well as clinical research trials.
The program involves two visits. The first visit with Michelle Lyons, MS, LGC, a licensed genetic counselor, focuses on reviewing the patient’s family history and personal medical history and discussing the genetics of cancer and the option of genetic testing. The second visit is with Michelle and George Trim, MD, a board-certified gynecologist with special training in cancer genetics. During the second visit, the patient receives her test results and is given a personalized plan for managing her cancer risk.
“Getting screened has been on my mind since my sister’s death,” says Patricia. “I just needed to take that important step and make an appointment. I filled out the paperwork, met with Michelle, had my consult and my blood work done, then anxiously waited for my results.”
“With three generations of cancer in Patricia’s family, she was a good candidate for our cancer risk evaluation program,” says Michelle. “We were able to educate Patricia on her lifetime risk for breast cancer. Even though Patricia’s genetic testing was negative, we did have to inform her that she’s facing a moderate risk because of her family history, and we discussed steps she can take to manage her cancer risk.”
Patricia was relieved to learn she did not have a mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2, which would have meant that she had a high risk for breast and ovarian cancer. She understands the risks she faces and after participating in the program learned she is now eligible for a breast MRI annually. She was also advised to schedule a clinical breast exam every six months and an annual mammogram.
My advice to anyone with a family history of breast or ovarian cancer is to get tested. The results will not only define your path, they may save your life...”
“My sister had a love for life and all she wanted to do was live life to its fullest. She fought to survive. Ten years later, testing is available that might have helped to save her life. We all need to take advantage of these extraordinary advancements in screening and technology. By doing so, we may save our own life or the lives of people we love,” says Patricia.
Many insurance companies cover the cost of genetic counseling and genetic testing when medically indicated. Financial assistance is often available for individuals who are uninsured or under-insured.
“Women should know their family health history,” says Michelle. “If you know which health conditions run in your family, you can take concrete steps to preserve your health and prevent those conditions.”
Community Medical Center’s cancer program is approved by the American College of Surgeons’ Commission on Cancer as a Community Hospital Comprehensive Cancer Program, meeting the organization’s high standards since 1986. The program has received the prestigious “Gold” designation for all areas surveyed.