GREENFIELD — Patients can find out about their risk for developing several types of cancer, thanks to genetic testing offered by Hancock Regional Hospital.
The hospital is taking the initiative in offering the testing. Previously, patients at its James T. Anderson, M.D., Center for Women’s Health could ask their doctors for a blood test to see if their genes held a predisposition for types of cancers. Now, all patients receiving mammograms are offered the opportunity to complete a simple, one-page questionnaire about their family history to determine if they are a candidate for the testing, said Lisa Wood, director of diagnostic imaging at the hospital, 801 N. State St.
The personalized cancer risk assessment questionnaire will help patients to determine their medical decisions now and in the future, she said.
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The testing checks a patient’s blood for 28 genetic mutations indicating their risk of developing seven cancers that can be hereditary, Wood said: breast, ovarian, colon, pancreatic, melanoma, prostate and uterine. While most patients’ insurance will cover the blood test, as it is considered preventive care, for those who may not qualify it can be administered at a cost of about $54, the national average, Wood said.
Including this testing for a genetic predisposition to develop cancers is part of Hancock Regional Hospital’s efforts to tailor medical care to the individual down to his or her chromosomes, said CEO Steven Long.
“We’ve come to learn that much of what we do needs to be highly tailored to the individual,” Long said. “Much of an individual’s health is driven by their environment, but also their genetic makeup, and if we aren’t aware of that, it makes it more difficult to highly fine-tune what we do.”
There are three levels of cancer risk based on genetics — general population risk, in which an individual does not have family with the same type of cancer or a genetic mutation that increases cancer risk, in which cancer occurs by chance; familial cancer risk, in which an individual may have one or more relatives with a specific type of cancer, there does not appear to be a specific pattern of inheritance, and any cancer is likely caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors; and hereditary cancer risk, in which cancer often occurs at an earlier-than-average age, occurs when an altered gene is passed down from parent to child, the individual is more likely to have multiple relatives with the same or related types of cancer, and the individual may develop more than one type of cancer, according to information provided by Myriad Genetic Laboratories, the company providing genetic testing for the Anderson Center.
If, upon taking the questionnaire, patients are determined to have a familial risk of developing cancer, a technologist will speak with them about genetics and have them watch a short educational video, Wood said.
After that, the questionnaire is returned to the patient’s primary care physician, who then administers the blood test, she said. If a patient tests positive for one of the gene mutations present in people at higher risk of certain cancers, then patients can take steps to keep themselves safe.
These steps include more frequent exams or testing for that type of cancer, such as mammograms, blood tests and Magnetic Resonance Imaging, as well as the possibility of prophylactic surgeries, such as a mastectomy or others, Wood said.
The testing being made available includes testing for BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 mutations, which account for 20 to 25 percent of hereditary breast cancers, according to the National Cancer Institute. BRCA 1 and 2 are genes that produce tumor suppressor proteins that help repair damaged DNA and play a role in ensuring the stability of a cell’s genetic material.
“When either of these genes is mutated, or altered, such that its protein product either is not made or does not function correctly, DNA damage may not be repaired properly,” according to the National Cancer Institute website. “As a result, cells are more likely to develop additional genetic alterations that can lead to cancer.”
Having a BRCA 1 or 2 mutation greatly increases the probability that a woman will develop breast or ovarian cancer. In general, about 12 percent of women will develop breast cancer in their lives, while 55 to 65 percent of those who inherit BRCA gene mutations will develop breast cancer, the website states.
About 1.3 percent of women will develop ovarian cancer in their lives, while nearly 40 percent of women who have the BRCA 1 or 2 gene mutations will develop ovarian cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute website.
According to the National Cancer Institute, prophylactic mastectomy — or preventive removal of breast tissue — in women who carry a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation may be able to reduce the risk of developing breast cancer by 95 percent.
Dr. Mike Fletcher, a Hancock Regional Hospital board member, said he thought the addition of genetic testing outreach to the hospital’s offerings was excellent.
“I think it will really help patients and their families,” he said.
Wood said she and her staff in the imaging center are excited to be able to offer the questionnaire and testing to their patients.
“As the hospital looks for prevention of cancers and screening early, this definitely helps with the mission of cancer prevention,” Wood said. “It has the potential to have a generational life-saving impact for you and your children to be able to know your risk.”
The James T. Anderson, M.D. Center for Women’s Health at Hancock Regional Hospital now offers genetic testing via blood test for risk of eight types of cancer.
Below are the three cancer risk types a person may fall under.
General population risk (low risk)
- Occurs by chance
- Typically do not have relatives with the same type of cancer
- Negative for a known genetic mutation that increases cancer risk in the family
Familial cancer risk (moderate risk)
- Likely caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors
- May have one or more relatives with the same type of cancer
- Does not appear to be a specific pattern of inheritance
Hereditary cancer risk (highest risk)
- Occurs when an altered gene is passed down from parent to child
- More likely to have relatives with the same or related types of cancer
- May develop more than one cancer
- Cancer often occurs at an earlier than average age