Resource Blog/Media/LCI LWI Morrell Cancer Prevention Month HERO2


How a Simple, One-Time Test Can Reveal Your Risk for Cancer

Baptist Health Eugene M. & Christine E. Lynn Cancer Institute

Wouldn’t you want to know if you or a family member has a genetic mutation that increases your risk for developing a certain type of cancer? And, knowing this, wouldn’t you want to be able to screen for that cancer and take steps to minimize your risk?


Louise E. Morrell, M.D., medical director of Lynn Cancer Institute, which along with Miami Cancer Institute is part of Baptist Health Cancer Care, says cancer genetic testing can reveal potential “defects” in your genetic makeup that increase your risk for certain types of cancer.


Having this knowledge, says Dr. Morrell, can help motivate you and your family to maintain lifelong vigilance for that cancer’s symptoms and keep current with your mammograms and other health screenings.


Louise E. Morrell, M.D., medical director of Lynn Cancer Institute, a part of Baptist Health Cancer Care


“We have seen an evolution of knowledge in recent years regarding the role genetics plays in determining an individual’s cancer risk,” Dr. Morrell says. “Some cancers have very potent hereditary causes and if you know you carry a genetic mutation, you can start screening earlier or take preventive action and save lives.”


Cancer genetic testing with your mammogram

Most health organizations recommend genetic testing as young as age 25 for women who have a family or personal history of breast cancer. It has become such a valuable tool in identifying individuals at risk for breast cancer and other cancer types that Lynn Women’s Health & Wellness Institute, in conjunction with Lynn Cancer Institute, now offers the opportunity for on-the-spot cancer genetic testing to every woman who comes in for an annual mammogram.


According to Dr. Morrell, cancer genetic testing at Lynn Women’s Institute screens for a variety of cancers that can affect families. “We’re now able to identify those genes that through a mutation can predispose you and perhaps other members of your family to a dramatically different risk of developing cancer – not just any cancer but a specific type of cancer,” Dr. Morrell says.


Cancers that have a strong genetic component include:


• Breast

• Melanoma (skin)

• Endometrial, uterine, ovarian

• Metastatic prostate (if assigned male at birth)

• Gastric, colon, rectal

• Pancreatic


“And thanks to the increase in genetic testing, we now have a much larger pool of data that allows us to determine how a particular genetic mutation can affect your statistical risk of developing cancer,” Dr. Morrell notes.


Genetic testing much more accessible and affordable

Aside from its ability to help determine one’s cancer risk, Dr. Morrell says, another factor behind the increasingly widespread use of cancer genetic testing is that it is so much more accessible and affordable today.


“Testing for cancer genes in the lab used to be a very technical and difficult process. Not so very long ago, it could easily cost $4,000 to test for one cancer gene and take two months to get the result,” Dr. Morrell says. “For a really difficult case, you could go through four or five genes and it could take up to a year and cost thousands and thousands of dollars. As a result, we only did this testing when we were very suspicious and thought there was a high probability of finding a gene.”


Today, Dr. Morrell says, the process for testing is much more automated. “With next-generation gene sequencing, we can look through hundreds of thousands of DNA strands at a time and the technical cost of doing it is a fraction of what it used to be.”


Determining if you’re a candidate for genetic testing

Cancer genetic testing is a simple process, according to Kathy Schilling, M.D., medical director of Lynn Women’s Health & Wellness Institute.


Kathy Schilling Cropped Headshot Thumbnail

Kathy Schilling, M.D., medical director of Lynn Women’s Health & Wellness Institute


“We do approximately 60,000 mammograms a year at the Institute. With this program, every woman who comes in for a mammogram is asked if they would be interested in seeing if they’re a candidate for genetic testing,” Dr. Schilling says. “If they have not previously done genetic testing and are interested, we’ll determine right then and there if they are a candidate. It only takes about 30 minutes and we walk them through every step.”


Patients interested in genetic testing start by answering a few simple questions about their medical history and any incidence of cancer in their family. “We want to know if anyone in your immediate family has had any type of cancer. That includes your parents; grandparents; brothers and sisters; children; aunts and uncles, and nieces and nephews. If any of them has or had cancer, your risk could be higher and we’ll proceed to the next step,” Dr. Schilling says.


A lab assistant gathers enough information from the patient to indicate if they’re eligible for cancer genetic testing, she says. A saliva sample is then collected and sent to the lab for analysis and the patient goes home. When the lab results come back, Lynn Cancer Institute schedules an appointment with the patient to discuss next steps.


Genetic testing benefits you and your family

“The benefit of doing the test is what can happen as a result to prevent cancer – not just for you but also your whole family,” Dr. Morrell says. “Understanding if you have an inherited risk for cancer empowers you to prepare for your future. And the opportunity for benefit is much broader than any other type of screening test you do because it can be useful for other members and future generations of your family – especially your siblings and your children.”


Not everyone knows their family history, for variety of reasons, says Dr. Morrell. “They could have been adopted and don’t have information about their birth parents. Or their parents could have passed or maybe they just never talked with their children about their health.” She adds that cancer genetic testing is also fairly inexpensive and your health insurance may cover all or some of the screening costs. “We can answer your questions about that, too.”


The mammogram and cancer genetic testing program, available exclusively at Lynn Women’s Institute, targets women aged 40 and over, as the American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends annual mammograms starting at age 40. Women who are between 25 and 40 can call 561-955-GENE (4363) to make an appointment to see if they’re a candidate for cancer genetic testing at Lynn Women’s Institute.


“It’s not like you have to wait months for an appointment – we have the dedicated staff to do it and it’s something we can get done quickly and efficiently,” Dr. Morrell says, who adds that one of her first genetic testing patients was a woman who turned out to have the gene for prostate cancer.


“She wasn’t going to get prostate cancer, of course, but her father, her brother and her son all had it,” Dr. Morrell recalls. “We were able to find the cause – a genetic mutation – and other members of her family now have this vitally important knowledge and can act accordingly.”

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