Cancer Society Explains Genetic Testing For Breast Cancer

THE Cancer Society of the Bahamas is clarifying information that appeared in a recent media report about genetic testing for breast cancer.

The Society said it is important to note that we all have two copies of the BRCA1 gene – one from our mother, and one from our father – and two copies of the BRCA2 gene – one from each parent. These genes are meant to protect our bodies from cancer. There is a high rate of hereditary breast cancer in the Bahamas, which has been attributed to genetic changes or mutations in these two genes.

Since 2008, the Bahamas Breast Cancer Initiative has been providing genetic counselling and testing to Bahamian women for testing of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.

Initially, only women with a history of breast cancer were tested, and it was found that approximately one in four of these women was found to have a genetic mutation in one of these genes (mistakenly reported as 47 per cent in a report released to Tribune Health last week).

In the general Bahamian population, with no personal history of breast, ovarian or prostate cancer, the risk is about three to five per cent for a mutation. The test involves looking for one of seven common Bahamian mutations from a saliva sample.

If women carry a genetic mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2, they are at increased risk for breast and ovarian cancer in their lifetime, while male carriers are at increased risk for breast and prostate cancers.

For women who have been found to have a mutation, discussions about increased breast screening, preventive medications, and preventive mastectomy would take place. Unfortunately, there is no effective screening for ovarian cancer, and thus women with a mutation are encouraged to consider preventive removal of the ovaries along with the fallopian tubes. Without preventive surgical options for men, they are encouraged to increase breast and prostate screening at the age of 35-40.

Currently, the Bahamas Breast Cancer Initiative (BBCIF) are providing genetic counselling and testing for all Bahamian women, regardless of whether or not they have a personal or family history of these types of cancers. The BBCIF is a separate entity from the Cancer Society, though their office is located within the Cancer Society building. The BBCIF is the only organisation in the Bahamas that is offering genetic testing for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.

The Cancer Society, a separate organisation from all of the others that are existing throughout the Bahamas, is a non-profit that was formed in 1976. Its mission is to serve the public through educational programmes aimed at prevention, early detection and treatment of cancer while providing support to cancer patients and their families.

The Cancer Caring Centre plays an important role in this regard relying on and operating with the support of volunteers, fundraising events and public donations.

Some Cancer Society highlights over the last 38 years have been:

• Donations to the Princess Margaret Hospital of cancer screening and diagnostic equipment, including a mammogram machine which was the first machine in the Bahamas and fibreoptic bronchoscope, as well as equipment to facilitate safer, more effective chemotherapy treatments

• Scholarships for Bahamians to study cytotechnology, oncology nursing and conduct research abroad

• The establishment of “Cancer Awareness Month” each May involving extensive cancer educational activities, healthy lifestyle, promotions and media saturation

• Creation of the successful national pap smear and breast screening of women and prostate screening campaigns for men; includes visiting numerous Family Islands annually throughout the archipelago of the Bahamas all of which is free of charge

• Creation of the successful Ride for Hope mammogram campaign

• Creation of the successful education programme sponsored by Ride for Hope Bahamas

• Creation of the successful Ride for Hope medical assistance fund

• Financing annual trips for children to Camp Good Days in New York

• Establishment of support groups in partnership with Us TOO for men that will provide invaluable emotional and moral support for patients;

• Establishment of Freedom Survivors and Freedom Kids, the youth arm support groups of the Cancer Society

• Operating Family Island branches in Eleuthera, Grand Bahama, Abaco, San Salvador, Central, South and North Andros, Cat Island, Exuma and Long Island.

These are just a few of the many contributions that the Cancer Society of the Bahamas has made regarding assistance to combat cancer. If you would like further information on the Cancer Society, please contact 323-4441/323-4482; visit the website: www.cancersocietybahamas.org or visit the headquarters located East Terrace, Centreville (two doors south of ZNS).


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