Using genetic testing in fight against cancer

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Genetic testing could help patients attack cancer before they ever get it.

Testing for mutations in genes BRCA 1 and 2 got attention in 2013 when famed actress Angelina Jolie shared her testing and following double mastectomy with the world. Since then there’s been a lot of changes.

Genetic Counselor Sarah Keilman from the Lacks Cancer Center in Grand Rapids told 24 Hour News 8 it’s cheaper to get the test than ever before.

Just within the past year, seven more labs across the country started offering the test; dropping the cost from more than $4,000 to zero dollars in some cases. Keilman said it’s a simple blood test that tells you if you have essentially a spelling error in your DNA.

If there is mutations in the genes BRCA 1 or BRCA 2, it puts you at an extremely high risk for breast, ovarian or other types of cancer.

If you have the mutation, Keilman said genetic counselors can talk about your options. You can consider preventative surgeries like a double mastectomy or having your ovaries removed that could greatly reduce your risks.

“I just feel like cancer’s such a horrible thing and if there’s something out there that can tell you ahead of time that’s something you’re going to face in your lifetime so you can be proactive and actually do something about it, for me, why not?” Stacy Baldini, a West Michigan mom undergoing the testing told 24 Hour News 8.

As she waited for her test results, Baldini said if she tests positive for the mutation, she plans on having any preventative surgery necessary.

“I have a little boy and I love him so much and for me from the very beginning I wanted to know,” Baldini said.

Her cancer-ridden family clued her in that something wasn’t right, at least four have tested positive for the mutation. Keilman said there are some indicators you can look for to see if you’re a candidate for the test.

  • If you have three close relatives with breast cancer, meaning a parent, sibling, aunt, uncle or grandparent.
  • If anybody in your family had breast cancer before the age of 45.
  • If you have a close relative with ovarian cancer.

Kielman said if you are a candidate and go through with the testing, it will let you know the risks you could face.

“I try to empower my patients,” Keilman said. “So yes, this stinks. I don’t think anybody would disagree with you, but now let’s make a plan.”

Keilman said if you imagine all of the women in the world with breast cancer, only about 5-10% of them carry the mutation, but a lot more women fall into the category of those who may want to get checked out.

For Baldini she only had to wait a week to learn her results.

“It is amazing because before it was just a waiting game, a horrible waiting game,” Baldini said. “It could eat away at you, it could ruin your life.”

24 Hour News 8 will continue following Stacy’s story Wednesday morning on Daybreak as she has decided to share her journey and results to help others.

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