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Genetic Testing Program at Texas Health Dallas Opens Window to Future Risk for Breast and Ovarian Cancer
06/24/2009

DALLAS — While diet, lifestyle and environmental factors all play a role in a woman’s risk for developing breast cancer, mutations in certain genes can significantly increase her risk for breast cancer. Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas offers a genetic testing service aimed at identifying two of the gene mutations that can be the strongest indicators of a woman’s risk for breast and ovarian cancer.

Becky Althaus, Ph.D., is a genetic counselor at Texas Health Dallas.

Becky Althaus, Ph.D.

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“What’s important to know is that if you have this gene mutation, it’s likely that you could develop breast or ovarian cancer even if you’re doing all the right things by exercising and eating right and not smoking,” said Becky Althaus, Ph.D., genetic counselor at Texas Health Dallas. “Women are still at risk for breast cancer if they don’t have the gene mutation, but having the mutation should put them on high alert.”

Women who carry this mutation of the BRCA-1 or BRCA-2 gene are offered enrollment in the high-risk breast cancer surveillance program at Texas Health Dallas, which is modeled after similar programs at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and Harvard Medical Center in Boston.

“Along with age and personal and family medical history, genetic testing can help a woman and her physician better assess the risk of developing cancer,” said Dr. Kandice Kilbride, a breast cancer surgeon at Texas Health Dallas. “With this information, each woman and her physician can proactively create a prevention plan and take steps to reduce the likelihood of developing cancer or detect the cancer early, at a potentially curable stage.”

The Texas Health Dallas genetic testing program also offers genetic testing for risk assessment of colon and uterine cancer.

“It’s important to remember that even with these advanced tests, we don’t have all the answers,” said Dr. Jaya Juturi, chief of oncology at Texas Health Dallas. “These tests only tell us part of the story. There are many medical mysteries that science has yet to uncover. These tests are but one effective way to risk-assess proactively and to better fight these devastating diseases.”

Genes give cells their marching orders, helping to carry out all aspects of a living organism. They’re made up of microscopic strands of DNA, which dictate everything from eye color to height to bone density to shoe size. More importantly, they govern the development and function of heart muscle, lung tissue, brain matter, blood and various other organs and systems critical to life.

Genes trigger what tasks are performed on the microscopic level and when those tasks are to be done. Humans have about 30,000 genes. A tiny break or mutation in a gene can cause anything from a congenital birth defect to an unusual hair color to heart defects.

A mutation of the “normal” BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 gene can predispose a woman to breast cancer — increasing her risk of developing the disease by up to 87 percent or a second primary breast cancer to 64 percent. The genetic test for breast cancer is done with a simple blood test.

Before the test, a genetics counselor meets with each woman to discuss her risk factors and to review her personal and family history and look for any other significant risk factors. It may be determined that a genetic test isn’t necessary for some women. Once the lab analysis is complete, each woman meets again with the genetics counselor to discuss the results and possible health implications.

The test results can be shared with your physician to help make medical management decisions. Persons who may benefit from genetic testing for breast cancer include those with a personal or family history of:

  • Breast cancer diagnosed before the age of 50
  • Ovarian cancer (at any age)
  • Male breast cancer
  • Bilateral breast cancer
  • Ashkenazi Jewish heritage

While genes may be a factor in whether someone gets cancer or any other disease, it’s only a piece of the puzzle, Althaus said. BRCA mutations only account for 5 to 10 percent of breast cancers. Other risk factors, like personal medical history and lifestyle, play a role, as well.

“But it’s a critical piece of the puzzle. The information can absolutely save lives,” she added. “Having the knowledge that they’re high-risk has enabled many of my patients to detect breast cancers at early stages — when there were no symptoms. This is especially true for ovarian cancer. About 11 percent of patients who decide to have their ovaries removed after finding a BRCA mutation are diagnosed with early-stage ovarian cancer.”

For more information about genetic testing at Texas Health Dallas, call 214-345-8365.

About Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas
Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas is an 866-bed acute care hospital and recognized clinical program leader, having provided compassionate care to the residents of Dallas and surrounding communities since 1966. US News and World Report has ranked Texas Health Dallas among the nation’s best hospitals in digestive disorders, orthopedics, and neurology and neurosurgery. An affiliate of the faith-based, nonprofit Texas Health Resources system, Texas Health Dallas has approximately 4,000 employees and an active medical staff of more than 1,000 physicians. For more information, call 1-877-THR-WELL, or visit www.TexasHealth.org.

 

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