Genetic testing can get ahead of ovarian cancer

BETTENDORF, Iowa — Genetic testing took my risk of ovarian cancer from 63-percent to 11-percent in just two appointments, a blood draw and $45.

After I had my daughter in February, 2018 I talked to my doctor about going through the testing. I was a good candidate because of my family history - both my grandmas died of ovarian cancer.

I scheduled an appointment to discuss genetic testing and brought along a WQAD photographer with me.

"We can see that you have risk factors but it is a personal choice," said Becky Guthrie, a nurse practitioner at Unity Point Health Trinity at Bettendorf.

Some patients do not want to go through genetic testing because they are afraid of the results, according to Guthrie. "They do not want to know because they feel to them if they do have a mutation it’s like a death sentence."

Guthrie said the testing would start with a blood draw right after our appointment and then my blood would be sent to a lab to be tested for the eight most common forms of genetic cancers: breast, ovarian, gastric, colon, pancreatic, melanoma, prostate and endometrial.

"If you do have a mutation, it doesn’t mean you’re ever going to develop that cancer but we want to screen you frequently to make sure if you would develop something abnormal or a cancer that we catch it at a very early stage," said Guthrie.

According to the information given to me from my doctor's office, the general population's risk of ovarian cancer is up to .07%-percent, a familiar risk of ovarian cancer is up to 11-percent and a hereditary risk is 63-percent.

Before the testing, I fell into the hereditary risk category. Five weeks after I had my blood drawn, I came back to my doctor's office to meet with Guthrie and discuss my results.

"I'm happy to tell you, you do not have a genetic mutation... so what the paperwork tells us is they analyzed 28 genes, for the eight most common forms of genetic cancers, and your tests were negative."

That takes a big weight off because my risk went from the 63-percent category to the 11-percent category. But had my results been different and depending on the gene mutation, Guthrie says I could talk to my doctor about increasing surveillance, such as a routine MRI or mammogram, some mutations come with a recommendation to remove the ovaries after bearing children or have a mastectomy.

"It doesn't mean you have to have it tomorrow. It doesn't mean you have to have it in 20 years or that you ever have to have it. Here's your information. We give you the information, and try to help you make the appropriate choices that work for you," said Guthrie.

The symptoms of ovarian cancer include: bloating, pelvic/abdominal pain, changes in appetite and constipation.

Guthrie told me the most important thing I can take away from this process is to get a yearly annual exam and always be open and honest with my healthcare provider about any symptoms I may be experiencing.

Guthrie believes genetic testing can save lives.

"In our mind, we think, breast cancer, breast cancer," said Guthrie. "Well, we’ve come a long way with screening for breast cancer. We’re catching breast cancers earlier, treatments have improved immensely, but with ovarian cancer, there’s not the awareness that I think there needs to be. Still, the mortality rate with someone with ovarian cancer can be as high as 95%. So those are scary Statistics."

Guthrie says 20-25-percent of all ovarian cancers are caused by a genetic mutation. She says medicine does not yet know what causes the other 75-percent of ovarian cancers.

To patients with a familial risk of ovarian cancer, Guthrie recommends birth control pills because they can reduce the risk of ovarian cancer by 50-percent.

Overall, she wants awareness to increase about what Guthrie calls the "silent killer."