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Baystate Medical Center Sees Uptick in Breast Cancer Consultations

BAYSTATE FISCALSPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WGGB) — More and more women are turning to genetic testing to determine if they’re at risk for developing the disease breast cancer, and if they could pass that risk onto their children.

Until a few months ago, many people hadn’t heard of the BCRA gene mutation, or the role it plays in breast cancer. Then Angelina Jolie made the shocking announcement that she was a carrier.

While she was still cancer-free, she had decided to have both of her breasts removed.  Since then, genetic counselors at Baystate Medical Center have had their hands full. “I think a lot of people will tell you that their numbers increased, the number of people going to their own doctors asking questions about it increased. The lab that we sent testing to had a lag in their turnaround time because there were so many people getting tested,” said counselor Sara Goldstein.

How accurate is the BCRA mutation in predicting breast cancer?

It’s estimated that 1 in 500 people are carriers. On average, a person carrying the BCRA mutation has an 80% chance of developing breast cancer at some point in their life.

That’s compared to the risk for the average American woman, which is just over 12%.

While each case is different, doctors say if you’ve got a family history of breast cancer, genetic testing can be a tremendous asset, especially since it’s becoming more affordable.  “This summer, the Supreme Court had a ruling that changed some patent laws related to BRCA 1 and 2 testing, which has resulted in increased availability of the test because more labs are now available to perform the testing and it’s resulted in decreased cost,” Dr. Mary-Alice Abbott said.

Right now, it’s about $2,000, but what you pay out of pocket can vary, depending on your policy. “It’s a big decision to do this testing. You know, people are going to get information that puts them at very high risk to develop specific types of cancers. You know we can’t tell someone when or if they will ever be diagnosed with cancer, so it can be an emotional burden for some people, other people feel like they want to be very proactive.”

Doctors emphasize that genetic testing isn’t for everyone — especially if you have no family history of breast cancer.

A reminder, Baystate and the Rays of Hope Foundation are holding their 20th annual Breast Cancer Awareness Walk on October 20th in Springfield and Greenfield. For more information, click here.

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