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Beating the Odds with a Breast Health Assessment

Tuesday, November 08, 2022 1:56 PM

Genetic Testing After Mammogram Leads Patient to Prevention Path

By Susan J. White

The convenience of a genetic test offered at her annual mammogram may have saved Beth Taylor’s life.

With a significant family history of cancer—her mother battled ovarian cancer and her great aunt  had breast cancer—Taylor, 62, of Evanston, shifted her focus to prevention.

Beth TaylorBefore her scheduled mammogram, Taylor completed a NorthShore Breast Health Assessment questionnaire to determine if she would meet criteria for genetic testing. For Taylor, that meant simply providing a saliva sample after her mammogram.

High Risk Revealed

When the results arrived three weeks later, Taylor learned she carried a BRCA pathogenic variant, which put her at higher risk for breast and ovarian cancer. Taylor was supported by a NorthShore genetic counselor who walked her through options and referred her to NorthShore Surgical Oncologist Catherine Pesce, MD.

“It wasn’t a hard decision for me to move forward with surgery given my family history,” said Taylor, who opted to have a double mastectomy and an oophorectomy to remove her ovaries.

“She easily could have gotten breast cancer in the next few years, so to help her prevent that whole experience and take the risk off the table and get on with her life is very rewarding,” said Dr. Pesce, who holds an academic appointment at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine. “I really believe genetic testing is the future, and NorthShore makes it so easy, offering it right there when patients get their mammogram.”

Making Genetic Testing Easy

Patients can complete a Breast Health Assessment questionnaire before their scheduled annual mammograms at NorthShore and Swedish Hospital breast cancer screening locations.

“We’re continually striving to lead the way with advances in medical genetics that bring real benefits to our patients in real time,” said Peter Hulick, MD, the Janardan D. Khandekar, MD, Chair of Personalized Medicine and Director of the Mark R. Neaman Center for Personalized Medicine. “Offering genetic testing as part of our comprehensive breast health assessment will help many women avoid a future cancer diagnosis.”

Inspiring Others

After successful surgeries, Taylor is encouraging relatives to get tested and openly shares her health journey with them.

“If I can save one woman by sharing my story, I’ve done my job,” said Taylor, who credits her husband, son and work colleagues with offering her tremendous support.