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A family history of breast cancer made Wendy Cooper realize she had to test for the BRCA gene and take drastic measures to save her life.

The BRCA gene test uses DNA analysis to identify harmful changes or mutations in either one of the two breast cancer susceptibility genes — BRCA1 and BRCA2.

Women who have inherited mutations in these genes are at an increased risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer compared with the general population.

“I decided to pursue the genetic testing when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in April of 2017, and she tested positive for the BRCA2 gene,” Cooper said. “I got tested that August at the age of 42.”

Cooper, now 44, knew from an early age that breast cancer was a part of her family history. “My aunt was diagnosed at 27 and passed away at 29,” she said. “My two other aunts, my mom’s sisters, were diagnosed in their 40s and are now in remission. So, after mom was diagnosed that made all four sisters that had breast cancer.”

The mother of three daughters decided to pursue a hysterectomy and a mastectomy. “Making the decision to be proactive with my health by having these surgeries has helped me greatly with my mental health, easing my anxiety and helping me look forward to life instead of always wondering what if,” she said. “It also spares me from having to go through chemotherapy and radiation, and after seeing how hard it was on my mom, I knew I didn’t want to go through that. It has been a very empowering journey.”

Since BRCA testing began in 1996, it has come a long way. Insurance companies now are covering the cost of the tests to keep cancer statistics down. The testing can be completed with a blood or saliva sample.

“I think a lot more women and men are thinking about their family history and how it impacts their health,” said Leslie Poston, advanced registered nurse practitioner - Oncology Genetics Specialist at Genesis Cancer Genetics. “Our genetic clinic now offers a service to women and men in our community that in the past was only offered at larger institutions. Our referrals continue to grow as more people hear about us.”

The Center offers genetic counseling and high-risk breast screening to local women. “Genetic testing often gives a better estimate of risk and options to manage that risk,” Poston said. “Even if women are not found to carry a genetic mutation that puts them at higher risk for breast cancer, they may qualify for increased screening based on their family history. We can calculate breast cancer risk based on personal and family history and provide screening options.”

Men can carry genes that can be linked to breast cancer as well as women. “These genes may also convey an increased risk for other types of cancer such as prostate cancer,” Poston said. “I see several patients that are coming in to get more information for themselves, but also for their children.”

Cooper’s daughter Jasmyn, 22, was tested and did not come back with the gene. She said her other two daughters, Shayla, 19, and Lauryn, 10, will also test for the gene. After 13 of her family members either tested positive for the gene or were diagnosed with breast cancer, Cooper will not risk her daughters getting cancer.

Poston said genetics is a growing field. “We are learning more about how genetics can impact our health by providing a better estimate of risk,” Poston said. “We are able to offer women and men increased screening or risk reduction options that will hopefully prevent cancer from forming and save lives.”

You can make an appointment at the Genesis Cancer Genetics by calling 563-421-8460.

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