Women visiting the Chattooga County Health Department for health services ranging from family planning to routine gynecological exams can now also receive free hereditary breast-and-ovarian cancer (HBOC) screening. This new service provides an accurate assessment of personal risk for developing the two cancers, education regarding availability of genetic testing to confirm the risk, and a plan for follow-up and preventive care.
“Evaluating your risk of hereditary breast-and-ovarian cancer syndrome, which often runs in families, is an important first step in cancer prevention and early detection,” says Anne Murphy, RN, Breast and Cervical Cancer Program (BCCP) Coordinator for the Georgia Department of Public Health’s ten-county Northwest Health District. “If you have close relatives with breast or ovarian cancer, you may be at higher risk for developing these diseases.”
“A nurse conducts the online HBOC screening,” Murphy explains, “which uses personal-and-family history to quickly determine if a woman is at risk.” Women with a positive risk screening are offered a follow-up with a genetic nurse specialist for counseling to determine the need to test for errors in the Breast Cancer Genes BRCA1 and BRCA2, two genes that normally protect against some cancers. An error in these genes can cause HBOC.
“Women with an error in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes have a 50-85% higher risk for breast cancer,” says Murphy, “and a 40-60% higher risk of ovarian cancer, much higher than someone in the general population. Having a BRCA error increases your risk for cancer.”
Women who elect to have the testing for a BRCA error will receive the results as well as counseling about how they will impact her future screenings for breast and/or cervical cancer, including mammograms. “Women will also receive instruction on steps they can take to lower their risk of cancer even if they have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 error,” Murphy says.
Each year, over 200,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with breast cancer and more than 20,000 are diagnosed with ovarian cancer. About 3% of breast cancers and 10% of ovarian cancers result from inherited mutations (changes) in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes that are passed on in families.
Inherited mutations in other genes can also cause breast and ovarian cancer, but BRCA1 and BRCA2 are the genes most commonly affected. Murphy adds “it’s important to know that not everyone who inherits a BRCA1 or BRCA2 error will get breast or ovarian cancer, and that not all inherited forms of breast or ovarian cancer are due to mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2.”
Murphy reminds that while the screening is free, the testing is not. “Upon determining if testing for the breast cancer gene is appropriate, the genetic counselor will contact the woman’s health insurance to receive authorization for testing. If the woman does not have health insurance, the genetic counselor will discuss possible funds/resources to cover the cost of testing,” Murphy adds.
For more information about or to schedule a free screening for hereditary breast-and-ovarian cancer, contact the Chattooga County Health Department at 706-857-3471.
Chattooga County Health Department hours are Monday – Wednesday 7:30 am to 5 pm, Thursday 8 am to 6:30 pm, and Friday 8 am to 2 pm. The Environmental Health office’s hours are Monday – Friday 8 am to 4:30 pm.
Contact the Chattooga County Health Department, 60 Farrar Drive, Summerville, at 706-857-3471; the Environment Health office at 706-857-3377, or visit www.nwgapublichealth.org/counties/chattooga.