Genetic Testing Used to Assess Risk for Breast Cancer

Posted at 10:49 PM, Oct 04, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-04 23:49:28-04
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. All this week, NBC26 will be featuring stories related to the detection, treatment and fight against the disease. 
Tuesday, we're focusing on genetic testing and how this has become a life-saving option.
As Kate Hackett Baer goes over her family history of cancer, she feels proud of her journey. She was diagnosed at 32 years old with Stage IV breast cancer.
Immediately after her diagnoses, she met with Bobbi McGivern, a genetic counselor at ThedaCare's Cancer Center.
“Some people have a lot of information, with a lot of dates, and reports on cancers and some people have very little,” said Bobbi McGivern.
McGivern said they see two groups, those already diagnosed with cancer like Kate, and others with a strong family history who would like to assess their risk.
Patients initially come in and talk about their risks, and then a blood or saliva test is done, targeting specific genetic mutations. The results take a few weeks.
“People sometimes have a misconception that it is like a crystal ball and it's going to be able to tell you okay, you won't get cancer, and here’s when it will happen. It's nothing like that, it's really a risk assessment,” said McGivern.
From there, counselors help people develop an action plan, things like being screened early, and other preventative measures, depending on their results.
Testing can range from several hundred to several thousand dollars, but most is not out of pocket.
“A lot of insurance companies have realized it's going to be cheaper for them to pay for preventative tests than cancer treatments,” said McGivern.
For Kate, although her testing wasn't used for prevention, she used it for treatment and developed a plan specifically for her.
“I was kind of angry. I was kind of angry because I was the youngest and the first to be tested when so many people had experienced breast cancer in my family,” said Kate. 
Now she's spreading the message -- genetic testing can save lives.
“I think I’ve had 18 cousins that have let know they've been genetically tested,” said Kate. 
She doesn't want people to be afraid, instead use it as another option for treatment and prevention.  
“I'm just so glad people are taking the information and doing something with it,” said Kate. 
McGivern wants to stress this is not a definitive answer. She said the testing cannot tell you if you will get cancer -- or when it will happen -- but they can help you develop that plan of action, to detect cancer as early as possible.