Montana Health News

Oct 25, 2012 7:34 PM by Victoria Fregoso - MTN News

Genetic testing offers hope to cancer patients

BILLINGS- Imagine stopping a new string of cancer, before it even starts. That's what 31-year-old Ashleigh George did.

Diagnosed with breast cancer this past May, she went through genetic testing and found out she was also at a 44-percent risk for ovarian cancer. When Ashleigh found out she had a cancerous genetic mutation, she responded.

"Have a double mastectomy was one thing I did. That reduces your chances of breast cancer coming back. And also, with having the mutation, I'm at a high ovarian cancer risk, so that's why I opted to have my ovaries and my fallopian tubes taken along with my uterus."

Ashleigh's family history led her to go through genetic counseling. Her grandmother died from breast cancer at the young age of 34. And three of her grandmother's sisters were also diagnosed. In cases like these, doctors recommend genetic counseling.

"It's meant to target patients where there is a high suspicion there is something hereditary that's causing the cancer risk in the family," said Susan Landgren, Genetic Counselor at Billings Clinic.

Ashleigh had never heard of genetic counseling before she was diagnosed. But she credits the knowledge of her genetic mutation and test results to helping other family members, including an uncle who tested positive for cancer.

"So once there's a baseline of the mutation, a line to go look at, they can tell where the mutation would be at and your family members can also be tested."

Doctors say that if a woman has breast cancer, each of her siblings, along with her children, have a 50% chance of having a genetic mutation. Because the cancer was on her father's side of the family, Ashleigh fell for the misconception that she had no reason to worry.

"It doesn't matter what side of the family," Ashleigh said. "You have the same percentage of getting the mutation as it's your mom, or your dad's side of the family."

Susan says the goal of genetic testing is to save lives.

"If we can identify these families, then we can forewarn other women in the family. We can be aggressive on how we screen and prevent cancer for the other women who are at risk."

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