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 September 27, 2003
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Genetic Counseling: Is It For You?
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Cancer Risk Assessment & Prevention Program

Susan Blake's history with breast cancer began even before she was diagnosed with it earlier this year.

"I had not only my mom, I had three second cousins that had had breast cancer. Everyone had been diagnosed before the age of 50."

It was just after the new year when she found out she too had breast cancer, at age 44.  Unsure about what to do and about her future, Susan's doctor recommended she meet with a cancer genetic counselor.

"My role is really to lay out the options for them," says cancer genetic counselor Jennifer Wilbur.

Jennifer Wilbur heads up the Cancer Risk Assessment and Prevention Program at Women and Infants Hospital.  In the beginning, Jennifer and her team helped plot out Susan's family tree.  It was then that Susan decided she wanted to find out if she carried the gene that could lead to more cancer.

"I learned I was positive for the BRCA-2 gene.  It hit me. It hit me very hard when I got the results, because you always hope, maybe, just maybe it won't be positive."

The news, while not that surprising, did help her decide to have her ovaries removed, a complete hysterectomy and a single mastectomy. All in an effort to hopefully lower her risk of developing more tumors down the road.  While the end results weren't what Susan wanted, it was better, to her, than having no results at all.

"The fact is, I have so many doctors following me and they know that I have the gene that they're going to watch me very closely, because of that. Also, for my children, they'll be watched even more closely," says Susan.

Genetic counseling isn't for everyone.  You should consider it if two or more close relatives in your family have had cancer or, if they've developed cancer at an early age.  As of now, testing is limited to certain types of cancers but not for long.

"I think, if dealt with appropriately, it's going to be an enormous, positive impact on health care," says Wilbur.

Doctors warn however, that genetics play a small role in most cancers and these programs can also help you decide if lifestyle changes are the best way to go.

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