Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Are You Your Aunt Gert???

Have you ever looked in the mirror and tried to decide if you look more like your Father’s side of the family or your Mother’s side of the family?  

If only we could use the mirror to look at our insides, all the way to our individual  cells and our DNA.

The mirror can give us important information, yes, I have green eyes and so did my father and yes, I think I have a great smile and so does my Mother.

What else about your family can you find out and probably more importantly what else do you want to know?

When I started my Nursing career 36 years ago, we were asking family history questions  and doing what we could to help patients decrease risks for certain diseases such as heart disease.

Over the years our knowledge and our ability to test people for genetic diseases has increased by leaps and bounds.

People with a presumed hereditary risk for cancer now have more options than ever when it comes to calculating the reality of that risk.  The possibilities are both empowering and daunting states Suzanne Mahon, RN, DNSc and professor in the School of Nursing at Saint Louis University in Missouri.

This type of personalization of your history does enable you, as the patient, to make difficult choices about care with more solid information.

It is not uncommon in the Breast Care Center for women newly diagnosed with breast cancer and who are trying to make decisions about Lumpectomy versus Mastectomy,  to do genetic testing to help them make a better informed decision about surgery.

Genetic testing has allowed us to become more proactive about our health and our future health care decisions.  We now have options and choices about surveillance schedules, prophylactic surgeries and medications that may help us PREVENT certain types of cancer.

It gives us the opportunity to really look at our lifestyle and change the things we can.  No, I can’t change my DNA , but I can eat a healthier diet, stop smoking, decrease intake of alcoholic beverages and exercise more.

Recent studies noted that woman ages 50-74 that walked about 1 hour daily had a 14% lower risk of breast cancer !!    Even small changes in our lifestyle can make a difference in preventing breast cancer.

Here at the PinnacleHealth Breast Care Center we have started a High Risk Clinic to help our patients and family members understand genetic risks for Breast Cancer and navigate options for care.

We will help “ organize” your Family Tree and discuss testing and surveillance.    There are some  “ Red Flags” that may help you make that phone call to our clinic.

  1. Any family member with a known gene mutation such as BRCA.
  2. A young age at onset of cancer ( this could be younger than 60, depending on the type of cancer) 
  3. Male breast cancer in the family
  4. Multiple family members with cancer ( not just breast cancer) 
  5. Certain Ethnicities ( such as Ashkenazi Jewish)
  6. Two or more types of cancer occurring in the same relative.

A website you may be interested in to help organize your family history is www.hhs.gov/familyhistory.

Genetic science is exploding and understanding what this means for all of us is complicated.   We don’t know how to test for all genetic diseases and having a negative result such as a negative BRCA gene mutation does not mean that that person will never have breast cancer.

It is moving us away from the “One Size fits all Medicine” to a personalized medicine that recognizes how unique we all are.

So next time you look in the mirror think how unique you really are!

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