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Jeannie Merrick W.H.C.N.P

Women’s Health Care Nurse Practitioner

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Genetic testing can put patients at ease, provide valuable information

Posted by on in Primary Care
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GeneticTesting-325When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, one of my first thoughts, after the initial shock, was who else in my family had been stricken with cancer?

Patients who have had family members diagnosed with cancer often worry about their own cancer risk, or the risk of their children. At Oak Street Medical, we have recently started a program to help patients better understand their family risks of developing certain types of cancer, which can be passed down by gene mutations.

The types of cancers we are most often confronted with in a primary care clinic are breast, ovarian, pancreatic, prostate, colon, melanoma and endometrial/uterine. A person's risk level for developing any of these cancers depends on many factors, including the person's lifestyle.

We're helping our patients understand how their level of risk changes in relation to their family history. Risk categories include: general population, familial risk or hereditary risk. A person's risk can vary dramatically, depending on which category you fall into.

With recent advances in understanding our human genome, genetic testing has become much more common. Most insurance carriers will pay for these tests if you meet the criteria recommended by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN).

Until recently, if a patient was worried about his or her risk of carrying one of these "faulty genes," the primary care provider really had only one option, refer the patient to a genetic counselor. This process is not only inconvenient for the patient, it is also costly and sometimes requires traveling long distances to find a clinic that specializes in this type of counseling.

At Oak Street Medical we are now able to help our patients obtain genetic testing. We provide counseling to determine who is appropriate for the testing, then draw and send blood samples to a specialized lab that performs the tests. Test results typically return within two weeks. A second appointment is made to help patients interpret the results.

If a patient is found to be at high risk for cancer, their medical management will change, and they can be offered opportunities for prophylactic and risk-reducing interventions. These options may include increased surveillance, risk-reducing drug therapy or surgery.

A cancer diagnosis is always concerning, but the good news is cancer caused by gene mutation is very rare and most patients, even when they meet criteria, will test negative. A negative result can relieve fears and help someone put their risks in proper perspective. The few who test positive often view this knowledge as power to make better informed health care choices. If you have questions or are interested in genetic testing, contact us for more information.

Tagged in: Cancer

As a women’s health care nurse practitioner, Jeannie Merrick has spent 30 years working with women of all ages as a specialist in gynecological, reproductive and sexual health. Jeannie’s down-to-earth approach is reassuring and comforting to patients.