Johnson City

Genetic counseling can test your risk for cancer

Genetic Counseling 9-14

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. - When it comes to cancer, early detection can be the key to survival; but did you know you can be tested to see if you're at a greater risk than most?

At 34 years old, doctors told Kaye Gonel words she never wanted to hear. "I said, 'Kaye Gonel has breast cancer?!' and she said, 'Yes, and these are your options,'" Gonel told News 5.

Since that day about seven months ago, she's been through rounds of chemotherapy and a double mastectomy. "Cancer is an interruption; a big interruption," Gonel said.

But it's an interruption that could be prevented by some investigation. Wellmont genetic counselor Debbie Pencarinha's job is to talk with patients about their family history of cancer, and she may recommend a DNA test by getting a blood sample or using mouthwash.

"If they find what they call a mutation, or a change in the gene, then we know it's not working right, and that's how we have that increased risk," said Pencarinha.

Some patients may learn their risk is as high as 87 percent.

One example as to why these tests are so important is that a mammogram is not recommended for women until age 40, but with a mutant gene, breast cancer can come a lot sooner. "Some women choose to do a preventative mastectomy, which is a removal of the breast tissue, so that they don't get breast cancer," Pencarinha explained.

Gonel was already in the fight for her life, but knew genetic counseling was for her. "When Debbie told me that I came back positive for the mutation, instantly I thought of my sisters," Gonel told us.

That's why Gonel's encouraged her sisters to get tested too, in hopes they never have to hear the word 'cancer.'

"I feel like the test makes you a superhero, because if someone knew that something like a car wreck was going to happen, and they didn't tell you; that would be wrong," Gonel added.

We learned more important information: genetic counseling isn't just for breast cancer; we're told there are genes that show risk of colon or pancreatic cancer as well.

We also learned most insurance carriers cover a counseling visit, and if it's recommended, they are likely to cover the DNA test as well.

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