The Truth About BRCA Testing and Genetic Risk

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Cancer genetics has come a long way in the last two decades, leading to increased prevention and improved treatment options. Today, research is shining the light on why certain people have an increased risk for cancer. “It took us 20 years to get where we are today with the knowledge of BRCA1/2, but we are starting to find changes in other genes that are explaining a history of cancer in families,” says Huma Q. Rana, MD, clinical director for Dana-Farber’s Center for Cancer Genetics and Prevention. “These new genes we’re identifying are likely to make a difference in prevention and …

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Five Things You Need to Know About Cancer Genetics

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Although most cancers are sporadic or occur by chance, a small percentage are due to inherited genetic (or germline) mutations, which can often be identified through genetic testing.  These mutations are different from somatic mutations, which are not inherited, but occur during one’s lifetime. Profile, a research project launched by Dana-Farber and Briigham and Women’s Hospital, has been analyzing DNA from tumor tissue since 2011 to learn more about how somatic mutations drive cancer. “Depending on family and personal history, we can test for genes that confer an increased risk for developing cancer,” says Huma Q. Rana, MD, clinical director for …

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Putting the Puzzle Pieces Together

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By Jenn Perry When I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 36, it was like déjà vu for my family. My mother had been diagnosed with the same disease at the same age, while pregnant with her third child. I learned I had breast cancer just six months after giving birth to my second daughter. My aunt also battled the disease, and my younger sister was diagnosed with a breast cancer very similar to the hormone-sensitive type I have. Although my sisters and I have been proactive about breast cancer screenings from a young age, genetic testing never crossed our …

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Understanding Genomics and Cancer

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If the new era of “targeted” cancer drugs and personalized treatments for patients realizes its promise, the power of genomics will get a lot of the credit. Genomics is one of the most commonly heard terms in cancer research and biotech companies today – but what does it really mean? What is genomics? Most people know that genetics is the study of genes and how they affect health and disease, and it’s been said that that cancer is a disease of genes. Today, that’s been amended – cancer is a disease of the genome – the entire complement of human …

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ASCO Recommendations on Family History a ‘Good First Step’

Before any patient begins treatment for cancer, oncologists should discuss first- and second-degree family cancer history, according to new recommendations from the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). The ASCO recommendations, published recently, are the first to focus on family history and a person’s genetic risk of cancer.

Infographic: Breast Cancer and Genetics

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women, but only 5-10 percent of breast cancer cases are hereditary. Of those cases, roughly 20-25 percent are linked to mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes (BRCA stands for BReast CAncer susceptibility). View the infographic below for more on the genetics of breast cancer.

Study: Type of Cervical Cancer May Drive Treatment Choice

By Alexi Wright, MD, MPH Although there are two main types of cervical cancer, known as adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, they’ve generally been treated as one disease, with the same approach to treatment. In a recent study, my colleagues and I surveyed the DNA in both types of cervical cancer cells to see if there were any differences. Such variations may help explain why the two types sometimes behave the way they do, and guide us toward treatments that work best in one type or the other.

Is a Preventive Mastectomy the Right Choice For You?

Does having cancer in one breast increase the risk of cancer occurring in the other, healthy breast? Young women with breast cancer often respond with a “yes” and overestimate the need to have the healthy breast surgically removed, according to a recent study by Dana-Farber investigators. However, the actual risk of cancer occurring in the healthy breast of those women without a genetic predisposition to breast cancer is only two to four percent.

What is Personalized Medicine?

By Richard Saltus Physicians have long recognized that the same disease can behave differently from one patient to another, and that there is no one-size-fits-all treatment. In cancer, chemotherapy might dramatically shrink one lung tumor but prove ineffective against the same type of tumor in a different patient – even though tissue samples look identical under the microscope. Side effects and appropriate dosage may vary from patient to patient as well. The goal of personalized medicine is to match a treatment to the unique characteristics of an individual patient: his or her personal and family medical history, age, body size, and …

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