Genetic Counseling Helps Mother of Three Following Breast Cancer Diagnosis

KeepHealthCare.ORG – Genetic Counseling Helps Mother of Three Following Breast Cancer Diagnosis

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DES MOINES  —  You’ve probably seen kits in the store or online that will screen your risk for developing certain diseases. The Food and Drug Administration recently approved the first at-home genetic test for breast cancer genes, but genetic counselors warn it has limitations.

Reading magazines has become a popular past time for Joyce Ellens.

“It’s a little downtime for me and it’s a way for me to just kind of calm.”

She has spent plenty of time in doctors’ offices over the last few years after being diagnosed with stage two breast cancer in October 2015.

“It was my first mammogram. I was turning 41,” she said.

Ellens went through chemotherapy, a bilateral mastectomy, and then radiation. She also met with an oncology genetic counselor at John Stoddard Cancer Center. It’s free for anyone to assess their risk and talk about testing.

“There are a handful of genes that can cause at least a moderate to high risk of breast cancer. And we’re learning more all the time about other genes that can influence risk, as well,” said Anne Frankl, a certified genetics counselor with John Stoddard Cancer Center.

You can even test at home, but Frankl said that has limitations. The Food and Drug Administration recently approved at home DNA test 23andMe to screen for three BRCA gene mutations.

“However, those mutations are only common in individuals of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, and there are literally thousands of other mutations that can’t be detected by 23andMe. And they’re only looking at BRCA. They’re not looking at the other genes that can increase risk for breast, ovarian, all sorts of cancers,” she said.

Ellens eventually learned the gene Chek 2 runs in her family, which puts the mother of three at increased risk for breast, colon, and skin cancer. She said, “That gives us power for the future and knowledge for the future and how to screen and just be preventative.”

Ellens is now two years cancer-free and spends much less time in waiting room chairs.

“It’s been quite a journey. I’ll never not have an oncologist, unfortunately, I’ll always have one. But each day it gets further away, it feels more like it’s in the past,” she said.

Frankl said they can go over results of at-home kits in genetic counseling sessions. The sessions are free at John Stoddard Cancer Center, but it could cost money for genetic testing if your insurance doesn’t cover the lab work. She said most plans will cover the cost for patients at risk.


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