The Information Contained in your Genes

October 31, 2014

At least 10% of breast cancers are hereditary; they arise because of alterations in our genes that are passed down through families and raise the risk of cancer. In the era of personalized medicine, genetic testing can empower individuals by giving them the information they need to discover hereditary risks and learn what they can do to catch cancer early—or even stop it from ever developing.  

Genetic counseling and testing may be of utmost value to individuals with breast cancer in their families. For years genetic testing for breast cancer has been focused on mutations in genes called BRCA1 and BRCA2, which account for about 5 percent to 10 percent of all breast cancers as well as increase the risk of ovarian, prostate, pancreatic and other cancers. 

Today that's not all that genetic testing can identify. Recently genetic testing options for such families have expanded and now include testing for more than a dozen genes implicated in hereditary breast cancer risk in addition to BRCA1 and BRCA2. This expanded testing is enabling individuals with previously normal BRCA testing to identify the causes of breast cancer in their families, as well as to learn about risks for other types of cancer. 

Providence Health & Services, Southern California, has two newly opened, state-of-the-art centers to serve families with a high risk for cancer or individuals who wish to learn more about their cancer risks. The Genetics Program at the Sheri and Roy P. Disney Center for Integrative Medicine at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank and the Cancer Prevention Clinic at the Margie Petersen Breast Center at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica both put the concept of personalized medicine into practice.

Consultation in these centers helps individuals identify risks in order to establish individualized management. Services in both centers include high-risk surveillance (such as breast MRIs), dietary and life-style modifications, stress reduction and other integrative health practices, and tailored use of medication and surgery for cancer prevention.

“Genetics is the first line of prevention,” says Ora Karp Gordon, MD, medical director of medical genetics and integrative medicine at the Roy and Patricia Disney Family Cancer Center of Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center, and a nationally recognized expert in hereditary cancer. “We can identify who is at extraordinary risk and tailor their screening and management—and unburden those who have been living in fear but are found to not carry a mutation that may have plagued their family.”

The Cancer Prevention Clinic at the Margie Petersen Breast Center, Providence Saint John’s Health Center, is directed by Maggie DiNome, MD. Dr. DiNome also is acting director of the breast center.

“There’s a whole population of patients who don’t know they are at increased or high risk, and we want to be able to identify those patients so that we can reduce their risks and enhance their screenings so we can find cancer at a much earlier and curable stage,” Dr. DiNome says.

Insurance typically covers appointments for genetic risk assessment, as well as genetic testing for those considered at high risk of disease. Moreover, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) is a federal law that protects people from health insurance discrimination based on genetic test results. 

For more information or to make an appointment, contact the Genetics Program at the Roy and Patricia Disney Family Cancer Center, Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center, at 1-818-748-4748, or the Cancer Prevention Clinic at the Margie Petersen Breast Center, Providence Saint John’s Health Center, at 1-310-582-7100.