Saliva test helping detect cancer gene

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (KTVU) -- A cutting-edge test for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer risk is becoming more mainstream.

For Breast Cancer Awareness month KTVU followed a South Bay woman on her quest to find out if her family history of breast cancer puts her at higher risk of getting the disease.

"My grandmother died of ovarian cancer. my sister has had breast cancer, and it just came back for the 3rd time, and I had a great aunt that had breast cancer," Cheryl Sinclair explained as she filled out a family history report at her doctor's office. "So I figured just to be safe I should check this out."

Sinclair came to Dr. Frederica Lofquist to get tested for the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 gene mutations.

"This is kind of the pinnacle of preventative healthcare," Dr. Lofquist explained. "I mean none of us really wants to find out we're at high risk for a serious disease, but you know all the things that we're testing for here are preventable."

Those with BRCA gene mutations have a nearly 90-percent lifetime risk of getting breast cancer and a nearly 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer. The general population has about a 10 percent lifetime risk of cancer.

The BRCA test is simple. Sinclair fills a tube with her saliva. The results take about six weeks. "As the technology has changed it's become quicker and less expensive," Dr. Lofquist said. 

The test costs about $4,000. Sinclair's insurance paid for it because of her family history.

"I don't think I have it. I don't think I have mutated genes," Sinclair said. "In this day in age when...your sister's cancer comes back three times...I'm not gonna base this on a hunch, you know? I'm gonna find out."

The testing gained notoriety when actress Angelina Jolie revealed she had the gene and underwent a preventative double mastectomy. While still considered cutting edge, the BRCA test is becoming more mainstream for patients with a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, like Jolie.

"I feel really strongly that, if I have someone with an appropriate family history, that I don't know how to take care of that patient without this information," Dr. Lofquist explained. "It's almost like we can cheat fate!" 

Lofquist said that can be done through close monitoring for cancers and preventative treatments, like the one Jolie underwent.

Weeks after taking the test, Sinclair got her results. Negative. Cacner is not just part of her family history, it's her job. Sinclair works for the American Cancer Society.

"It's a little bit of practicing what I preach," Sinclair said about deciding to take the BRCA test. 

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