April 15, 2024
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What You Need To Know About Breast Cancer & Genetic Testing

Many people do not realize that the vast majority of breast cancer occurs by chance, and are not a matter of heredity. However, breast cancer can occur more often than usual in some families because of their genetic make-up. Genetics simply mean that the condition is passed on through families via special codes inside cells called genes, and this genetic ‘makeup’ is important because the material inherited from your parents controls various aspects of the body.

For people concerned that their risk of developing breast cancer is higher than usual because of family history, it is important to visit a geneticist to better understand your familial risk. Some people hesitate for some time to get tested – it can be a scary decision–but when they finally do, they realize that there is nothing to fear about genetic counseling or testing.

At John Theurer Cancer Center (JTCC) geneticists are available to speak with patients about the importance of testing and how it will go. Upon a first visit, patients can expect the following:

· Review your medical records

· Draw a family tree and speak with you about which relatives in your family have had cancer

· Seek specific information about how you are related to that person, how old were they when they got cancer and what type of cancer they had

Based on information gathered during this first appointment, the counselor would recommend whether or not to perform genetic testing. Once those tests are analyzed, the geneticist makes a follow up appointment with the patient to discuss the test results and next steps. Following, the geneticist makes recommendations to the referring doctors for management.

The following Q&A spotlights important information for patients to be armed with:

Q: What genes would be appropriate for me to be testing for?

A: A Person has 27 genes, and genetic counselors make thoughtful decisions based on a number of different factors including which types of cancers are present in family and what tests are available, turnaround times, and which labs work with insurance.

Q: Are there strict privacy rules surrounding genetic testing?

A: Yes. Medical institutions are prohibited by law from disclosing any results to anyone unless patient gives expressed written consent.

Q: How does the testing work?

A: genetic testing is typically done as blood or saliva testing. Blood draw can be done in conjunction with other treatment or testing. Also, we offer saliva testing when available.

Q: What If I have a close relative’s genetic mutation information? Is that helpful for me?

A: Yes. If a patient is aware of a family member’s genetic mutation, most important thing they can bring is a copy of the relative’s test report. Of course they will need written permission from that relative.

Q: Why are some cancer patients sent to a genetics counselor and not others?

A: Some reasons someone would be referred to a genetic counselor include Cancer diagnosis at an early age; one person with more than one type of cancer; multiple people on one side of the family with the same type of cancer; a genetic mutation was previously identified in a family member; certain rare types of cancer which almost always signify a hereditary mutation

Q: Is it true that breast cancer genes only come from maternal side?

A: A common misconception is that this type of predisposition can only be inherited from the mom’s side. The truth is that it can be inherited from the dad’s side too. But both are extremely rare.

John Theurer Cancer Center (JTCC) and Hackensack University Medical Center is holding a breast cancer risk and genetic testing seminar on Wednesday, December 3 at JTCC’s Conference Center (92 Second Street, Hackensack, NJ). The session will run from 9:00am – 2:00pm, and will cover topics such as breast cancer risk factors and risk assessment tools, importance of family history, clinical management of high-risk patients, and include a panel discussion on direct-to-consumer genetic testing, genetic versus gnomic testing and genetic panels.

The event will feature Stanley Waintraub, MD, co-chief of breast oncology at JTCC, Helio Pedro, MD, chief of genetics at JTCC, Freya Schnabel, MD, director of breast surgery at NYU Langone Medical Center, Banu Arun, MD, professor of breast medical oncology and co-director of clinical cancer genetics and clinical cancer prevention at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, and Claudine Isaacs, MD, medical director of the cancer assessment and risk evaluation program at Georgetown University Medical Center.

To register or for more information, contact Jennifer Chun Kim at [email protected] or 212-731-5876.

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