Susan G. Komen’s free genetic tests assess cancer risk

The genetic test is a simple blood test that detects mutations in genes

A technician inserts a needle into a vein during a blood donation. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
A technician inserts a needle into a vein during a blood donation. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Genetic testing is one way to measure your risk of cancer, and for the first time, Susan G. Komen of Oregon and SW Washington will pay for it.

In the third installment of her 4-part series, KOIN 6 News anchor Jennifer Hoff shows you who qualifies for the testing and how it works.

Hoff met breast cancer survivor Tracie Connor and her husband Ryan at her ultrasound last month when the couple found out Tracie was 20 weeks pregnant.

But 3 years ago, they didn’t think getting pregnant was even possible.

“I wasn’t worried about the other process, it was what if we can’t have children,” Tracie, who endured 16 weeks of chemotherapy to fight off the cancer, said.

Ryan said they were concerned about having kids after learning Tracie’s eggs and body were exposed to radiation during her cancer treatment.

Tracie and the baby have since undergone genetic testing that Komen recommends if you or a family member had breast cancer before the age of 50, if 3 or more people in your family had it or if they got the cancer in both breasts.

For the first time, Susan G. Komen of Oregon and SW Washington is paying for genetic testing. (KOIN)
For the first time, Susan G. Komen of Oregon and SW Washington is paying for genetic testing. (KOIN)

The genetic testing is a simple blood test that detects mutations in genes, like BRCA1, that are linked to breast cancer.

“My role is to provide them with accurate information,” Compass Oncology genetic counselor Becky Clark said. “We spend an hour with a patient to really go over what it means for them, not what they’d get out of a pamphlet. It’s really personal for them.”

Susan G. Komen programming director Cindy Fletcher is excited to be providing the tests for free, especially since they aren’t covered by state and federal funds.

“It’s really exciting to be on the cusp of something so innovative,” Fletcher said.

For the first time, Komen is funding the test that Fletcher says serves low-income and uninsured women all across the state.

“We like to say that where you live should not determine whether or not you live, and a program like this really makes that possible,” Fletcher added.

As for Tracie, she didn’t get tested until after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Even though she didn’t have any mutations and still got cancer, she’s now cancer-free. There may be more genetic testing for Tracie in the future if other genes related to breast cancer are identified.

As for Tracie’s baby girl, she will be at an increased risk for breast cancer because of her mom’s history. She will likely start breast screening earlier than the average woman.

“If you’re aware and you know to be watching for it, that’s the best thing you can do and I think that’s very important,” Tracie said.

Komen is partnering with ScreenWise, a program under the Oregon Health Authority that can fund about 20 tests this year.

If you want to find out whether you qualify, click here.

And if you want more information from Komen on genetic testing, click here.

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