Buddy Check 25: The importance of knowing family medical history

By WEEK Reporter

March 25, 2014 Updated Mar 25, 2014 at 11:39 PM CDT

NORMAL, Ill. -- Most cancer occurs by chance.

But, what if you could determine your risk for a specific cancer with a simple test?

And, what if that test could help determine your course of treatment if you were ever diagnosed with the disease?

The Twin Cities Susan Owens is empowered with information as she walks the halls of the Community Cancer Center.

This is where she discovered, with the help of advanced practice nurse Becky Powell, the importance of knowing your cancer family history.

"One of the first things we did was to do a genealogy chart," said Susan Owens, had genetic testing.

The completion of that chart helped determine whether Owens qualified for hereditary cancer testing.

A routine mammogram had already led doctors to diagnose the then 59-year-old Owens with early-stage invasive breast cancer. Now she wanted to know if she had the BRCA genetic mutation of the disease.

"I have a daughter. I have two granddaughters and I was concerned, have I given them some gene or not." said Owens.

Despite a strong family history of breast cancer, one of the requirements for testing, Owens did not have the gene mutation, nor did her daughter.

Still, the test helped her know the course of treatment she wanted to take.

"it's really just one more piece of information to help not only the patient, but the doctor, help them toward treatment decisions that best fit their needs," said Becky Powell, Advanced Practice Nurse.

Most insurance companies cover the cost of the test if you meet the criteria for testing. It is an expensive test, more than $4,000.

It does have limitations. Testing does not detect all causes of hereditary cancer. But, it can give peace of mind.

"Make sure you're doing everything you can because if you catch this early as in my case, you can have a long life," said Owens.

Less than 10 percent of all breast cancers are genetically inherited mutations.

But, those who test positive for the gene have a dramatically higher risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer.

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