New technology and genetic testing in the fight against breast cancer
ASHEVILLE, N.C. (WLOS) — Therese Figura is recovering from breast cancer. For her, gardening is good therapy. "My mother always told me that you're never closer to God than on your knees in the garden," she said.
"My diagnosis came from the images of calcifications clustered together. These are almost like having kidney stones in your breasts," Figura explained.
She credits a diagnostic mammogram for helping to catch her cancer early -- before a lump formed.
New technology and genetic testing are now becoming part of the fight against breast cancer.
News 13 talked with Dr. Helen Sandven, a radiologist and the medical director of breast imaging for Mission Health. She says while a screening mammogram is the first step, diagnostic screenings can paint a clearer picture of a patient's problem.
"So, it's the same imaging, but it's different. For example, we might do magnification views that we might not do on a screening," she said.
Dr. Sandven says nearly 400,000 new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in the United States each year. She stands by screening mammograms when it comes to preventative care.
"That is the way to save the most lives is to have a mammogram, every year starting at 40," she said.
A piece of equipment called the ABUS can also help patients with dense breast tissue by providing 3-D ultrasound images. Medical professionals say, when combined with a regular screening mammogram, it can help detect breast cancer early.
Doctors say there is a national movement to increase awareness of breast cancer risk. Many states have passed laws requiring that patients who receive a mammogram be informed about their breast tissue density. News 13 found that North Carolina and South Carolina are among those states.
For 5-10 percent of all cancer cases, genetic counselors say a person's DNA may hold answers.
"Having genetic testing to identify those people to get them earlier screening and the right screening can be really life-saving," Carolyn Wilson, a genetic counselor with Mission Fullerton Genetics Center, said.
The company 23andMe provides a kit to test your breast cancer risk, but genetic counselors say you shouldn't rely on this alone.
"23andMe does provide testing for 3 BRCA gene mutations - breast cancer inherited genes - but there are thousands of BRCA mutations," Wilson said.
Wilson warns that you should talk with your healthcare provider if you are considering a direct testing kit like 23andMe.
"I think these companies have a really wonderful product for certain scenarios. But if you're interested in learning about your inherited genetic risk for disease, those are not the most accurate tests to do," Wilson said.
In a statement, a company spokesperson for 23andMe points out that this testing mainly targets those of Jewish ancestry.
"The three variants we test for in our BRCA 1/BRCA 2 (Selected Variant) report are most prevalent in those of Ashkenazi Jewish descent. For the variants we report on, women with the highest risk result have a 45-85% chance of developing breast cancer by age 70 and a 10-46% chance of developing ovarian cancer. They may also have an increased risk for certain other cancers. Men with the highest risk result have an increased chance of developing male breast cancer and prostate cancer. Men with these variants may also be at risk for certain other cancers. Customers that are at increased risk for breast, ovarian or prostate cancer should discuss screening and preventative measures with their healthcare provider to better understand interventions that have been shown to reduce the risk for developing these cancers."
For Figura, a clinical genetic test after she developed cancer presented her with peace of mind. She said she underwent oncogene testing, revealing that she has a 2.5 percent chance of the cancer reoccurring.
Moving forward, Figura's future is bright.
"I go through diagnostic mammograms now. I only have to do that once a year, and I just had mine last week and it was clear. So, I'm one year down," she said.
Now Figura is sowing the next chapter of her journey.
"It's about attitude and prayer and learning as much as you can possibly learn. With all of that combined, I think it's a good recipe for success," she said.