by Lori Tipton
January 21, 2009
It's a new frontier in the fight against cancer. Advanced research has paved the way to learn more about this type of disease and how it may run in families.
About 5 to 10 percent of all cancers are inherited. And now there are tests for cancer patients to determine whether they carry an inherited cancer gene that could be passed on to other family members.
Inside Providence's Cancer Center is a counselor for cancer patients.
"I'm here to assess a patient, but I'm really there to teach and help them understand what they're dealing with," said Maggie Miller, a certified genetic counselor.
"Most of the time I work with people who have inherited conditions, so something that runs through the family," she said. "We're trying to help people plan for their future, understand their risk, and possibly even prevent cancer, in my situation."
Over the past three years Miller has screened and tested about 700 cancer patients to see if they carry the cancer gene.
One of those is Bear Baker, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in Dec. 2005. He battled cancer and won, but says he wanted to make sure his cancer was not hereditary for the sake of his children.
"If I did, I'd pass it along to my daughter and possibly my son, and their chance of breast cancer had increased significantly," Baker said.
Certain cancers, like breast cancer, can run in the family. So Baker met with Miller and detailed his family and health history and gave a blood sample to determine whether his cancer was inherited.
"Anything that's inherited is going to be in the entire blood stream," Miller said. "So we simply draw a tube of blood and mail it off to a laboratory."
Even though some members of Baker's family also battled breast cancer, his test results came back negative.
"If in fact I had had the defective gene, it certainly would have pushed me to advise my daughter to be tested immediately," Baker said.
Miller says more and more patients are learning about genetic counseling and choosing to have the test. About 70 percent of those are under the age of 60, but lately more patients are in their 20s and 30s.
"The people who tend to be most motivated are between 20 and 50," Miller said. "However, I've also met with some amazing families in their 80s who are choosing to do the genetic testing simply to help their younger generation."
According to Providence genetic testing is not used as a screening tool. It is a costly test -- some insurance provides will pay for it but require a referral from a doctor.
Contact Lori Tipton at email@example.com
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