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Making the Choice:  Genetic Testing.

In March, Angelina Jolie shocked the world after revealing she had undergone a hysterectomy and double mastectomy, following a genetic test that said she would have a high risk for breast and ovarian cancer. 

Many do not realize that genetic testing is not just something for the stars, it is saving lives right here in Michiana. Though it can be life saving, it gives some patients a difficult decision to make.

Shelley Galaske considered the test after watching so many of her family members suffer from breast and ovarian cancer. Every passing birthday brought the question, would she be next?

"I kind of knew in the back of my mind that I would be positive, but I wanted to take the test for sure," said Galaske. "Even when I was in my 20s I thought, if there was a test that would tell me, am I going to get what my Mom and my Grandma and my Aunt had, and you know, if I had to go through what they went through, is there a way to know before it happens."

South Bend Clinic Doctor Mark Meekhof said Galaske was a prime candidate for genetic testing. "There was a really strong family history of cancer, so it was almost a no-brainer to be tested," said Dr. Meekhof. 

By age 45, she decided it was time to take the test. At the South Bend Clinic, patients like Galaske are asked if they want to fill out a survey for the testing. The questions ask if the patient has family members with a history of one of the 7 most common types of cancer the genetic test screens for. 

For those that move forward and have the genetic test, it's a fairly simple process. All it takes is one vial of blood and about three weeks for doctors to screen over 25 genes that could lead to cancer. 

Galaske ended up testing positive for BRCA 2, meaning she would get breast and ovarian cancer at some point. She decided to have a double mastectomy and hysterectomy at the same time. It was a tough recovery, but living to see her children grow up was worth it she says, "I want to be around to see my grandkids, and I want to be around to see my kids get married, and go to college, and all the things that my Mom never got to see." 

For Charlotte James, getting her test results back was a shock. "He told me I was diagnosed with BRCA 2.," said James. 

"With Charlotte, you wouldn't expect with just having one person have ovarian cancer that she would be positive and she was," said Dr. Meekhof.  James decided to have her ovaries removed, and after telling family members the results of her test, they wanted it too. "It turned out that her mother, and her sister and her brother were positive," said Dr. Meekhof.

James was not ready to face the operating table to have her breasts removed, though. Dr. Meekhof explained that surgery is not the only fix, people like James who are not ready to go under the knife can get frequent screenings instead. A lot of people also do not realize the test can actually be affordable. Most insurance providers cover the tests if you have a family history of certain cancers, and if your doctor recommends it.

Both women admitted they were scared to take the test, but knowing their results has been freeing. "With me knowing what I have, it's best to take care of it right now, so that way I can be around longer for my kids," said James.  "I think this is a very good thing," said Galaske. "I think that if this were around years ago, then I would probably have half my family members."

For more information on the testing, visit the South Bend Clinic's website. 

The American Cancer society also provides further information on the testing.

Should you get genetic testing?

The American Cancer Society recommends those who answer "yes" to any of these ask their doctor about genetic testing:  

  • Several first-degree relatives (mother, father, sisters, brothers, children) with cancer, especially if they’ve had the same type of cancer
  • Cancers in your family that are sometimes linked to a single gene mutation (for instance, breast, ovarian, and pancreatic cancer).
  • Family members who had cancer at a younger age than normal for that type of cancer
  • Close relatives with rare cancers that are linked to inherited cancer syndromes
  • A physical finding that is linked to an inherited cancer (such as having many colon polyps)
  • A known genetic mutation in one or more family members who have already had genetic testing




Posted on July 08, 2015