MINNEAPOLIS - A groundbreaking gene study could change how doctors screen for certain cancers, ultimately revolutionizing cancer prevention.
Erika Larson was just 21 when she got the news that changed her life. Adoption records showed her biological mother and grandmother had both died by 40 from ovarian cancer. Fearing she would be next, Larson got a genetic blood test, learning that she has what's called the BRCA1 gene, a mutation causing a high risk of cancer.
"I thought, 'What do I have to do to protect myself?'" Larson said. "When do I have my babies, and when do I have my ovaries removed?'"
Erika had two babies in three years and last summer doctors removed her ovaries, but she continued getting tests. An MRI two months ago found a tumor in her breast. Now starting chemo, Erika and experts say knowing her genetics saved her life.
"There isn't a good screening tool," said Dr. Ellen Goode, Mayo Clinic Associate Professor of Epidemiology. "Once we know about it, it's usually a little bit too late."
But that could soon change. Mayo Clinic researchers say they've found new DNA sequences linked to breast and ovarian cancers. This new information will lead to better genetic tests, results that will show the risk for cancer and how serious it might be.
"If we can determine you're at 90 percent risk," Goode said, "You might take more measures for prevention."
Exactly like Larson, who says knowing her history helped her rewrite her future.
"I'm so thankful for the early testing," she said. "Absolutely."
The gene markers could help determine both cancer risk and cancer treatment, such as whether you should have a preventative mastectomy.
In Erika Larson's case, her doctors at the Piper Breast Center in Minneapolis used the genetic tests to tailor her chemotherapy.
The research was funded in part by the Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Alliance.