Genetic testing for cancer gene hits home for NewsChannel 12 anchor

Genetic testing and its connection to breast cancer hits home for one of our own

GREENVILLE, PITT COUNTY - Angelina Jolie's recent announcement that she had a preventative double mastectomy has triggered discussion about genetic testing and its connection to higher cancer risks.

That news hit home for our own NewsChannel 12 anchor Jaime McCutcheon.  Her mother was diagnosed with cancer in 2006.

"She was late stage three/early stage four Ovarian Cancer when she was diagnosed, late stage one/early stage two with the breast cancer," explains Jaime.

Jaime's mother passed away in 2009.

"In 2009, I became pregnant with my first and only child, so she {my mom} was fighting very hard because she wanted to be there to meet her granddaughter," Jaime said.  "She fought for a little more than three years, but in the end, she couldn't fight it anymore.  My daughter was born two days after my mom died of Ovarian Cancer.  It was the Ovarian Cancer that killed her.  She missed meeting her granddaughter by just two days."

Stephanie Francis is a certified genetic counselor at ECU's Brody School of Medicine. Francis said everyone has genes called BRCA1 and BRCA2, which stops tumors from growing. But harmful mutations can stop these genes from working properly.

"Less than one-percent has a mutation in one of these genes," said Francis. "It's fairly rare."

Francis said genetic testing is for people at higher risk for these mutations, based on age and family history. She said if you test positive, that means you have a mutation in one of those genes and the lifetime risk for caner increases to 85 to 87 percent.

Francis said the genetic testing is done through a blood or saliva sample and costs up to $3,500.

Jaime said she looked into getting the genetic testing done after her OB/GYN discussed the option with her, but found her insurance didn't cover it.

"I was quoted $3,200 at the time to have the test done, and I don't know about you, but I don't have a spare $3,200 laying around to be tested for a gene," Jaime said.

So Jaime says she stays on top of her health and has already had two mammograms done.

"To see how quickly it can happen, it's something you don't mess around with and I'm not going to say 'oh it's not going to happen to me' because I darn well know it can happen to me," said Jaime.  "It's happened to the two women I love most in this world, so it can certainly happen to me too.

That second woman, Jaime's maternal grandmother, also recently died of cancer, although not one of the cancer's connected to the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.

Francis said if a parent has the gene mutation, there's a 50 percent chance of passing it on to a child.

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