Monday Medical: Know genes to fight cancer |

Monday Medical: Know genes to fight cancer

Monday Medical

With a simple test, patients of the Gloria Gossard Breast Health Center can now better understand their risk for breast and other types of cancer.

A genetic test for cancer can be beneficial for men and women, especially those who have a family history of cancer.

“Our hope is to identify women and families … before a cancer occurs or at an earlier stage, so we can offer awareness, education and preventative services,” said Dr. Terese I. Kaske, breast radiologist and medical director of the Gloria Gossard Breast Health Center.

A cell’s genes, or sections of DNA, give directions for how to make the various proteins our bodies need to function. Mutations in these genes can change how a cell makes or stops making a protein. Some mutations can result in cells that grow out of control, which can lead to cancer.

Most cancers begin with mutations that take place during a person’s lifetime and sometimes have an environmental cause, such as exposure to sun or tobacco, according to the American Cancer Society. Some mutations are thought to be inherited. By identifying people at risk for inherited mutations that may cause cancer, genetic testing can result in more proactive monitoring and care.

“We’ve been collecting family history information from patients at the time of their exams, and anyone who has had a family history of cancer has been referred to a genetic counselor,” Kaske said. “Now, we can be more proactive. We can immediately address the issue of family history through genetic testing and provide more timely information. “The more family health history a patient can know, the better we’re able to make recommendations.”

The genetic test analyzes 25 genes to help detect risk for eight different cancers: breast, ovarian, stomach, colon, pancreatic, melanoma, prostate and uterine.

If a mutation is found, there are various steps patients can take to help reduce their risk.

“There are a multitude of screening tools that can be utilized to monitor the patient,” Kaske said. “For example, if a patient has a colon cancer gene, they would be placed on a more frequent schedule of colonoscopies; if a patient has a breast cancer gene, the patient would receive more frequent mammograms and/or MRIs.”

The genetic test requires nothing more than a blood draw or saliva collection. The sample is then sent to a lab for processing, and results are available in four weeks. Results will include personalized health recommendations, such as starting screenings at a younger age or performing them more frequently, and will be shared with a patient’s primary care provider. If the test is positive for a genetic mutation, a patient will be able to consult with a genetic counselor.

Breast Health Nurse Navigator Frannie Johnson said the community’s response to having the genetic testing has been very positive.

“Women in our community seem to be a little more proactive about their health and educating their families about family history,” Johnson said.

Depending on a patient’s insurance coverage, the test may be covered under the Affordable Care Act.

Patients should remember that, even if a mutation is found, developing cancer is not a given.

“The genes could be an indication that a person is predisposed to a particular cancer,” Johnson said. “However, that doesn’t necessarily mean the person will get that cancer.”

For more information on genetic testing for cancer at the Gloria Gossard Breast Health Center, contact the Breast Health Nurse Navigator at 970-875-2623 or visit

Susan Cunningham writes for Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at

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