With all the shades of pink, you know it is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is a big deal for the Georgia Department of Public Health’s (DPH) Breast and Cervical Cancer program.
|(L-R) Shonta Chambers, Deputy Director of DPH's Health Promotion and Disease Prevention; Barbara Crane, director of DPH's Office of Cancer Screening and Treatment; Alice Kerber, advanced practice nurse in genetics at Georgia CORE; Monique Martin, Genomics Health Education and Communications Specialist at Georgia CORE; and Mirrin Reagan, breast cancer survivor.|
On Oct. 8, DPH’s staff conducted discussions and presentations to educate employees and the community on family history and genes, also called genomics, and health screenings for women at risk of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.
In 2011, DPH partnered with the Georgia Center for Oncology Research and Education (CORE) to launch the Georgia Breast Cancer Genomics, ESP Project. The project has worked to educate providers and the public on hereditary breast and ovarian cancer, conduct surveillance to determine the number of women at high risk in Georgia and to create policy changes to increase access to genetics counseling and testing as a preventive service.
Barbara Crane is director of DPH’s Office of Cancer Screening and Treatment. Crane has been a registered nurse for more than four decades, and she said she has never been so excited about identifying women, especially those under age 40, who may be at risk for these hereditary cancers.
“For the first time in over 40 years, I actually see the ability to prevent a cancer before it is diagnosed and in doing so, we can save a life,” Crane said.
Through the genomics project, Georgia health departments in DeKalb, Bibb, Chatham, Gwinnett, Cobb and Clayton Counties have screened more than 1,700 women for defects in genes like BRCA1 and BRCA2, which greatly increase a woman’s risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Using the breast referral screening tool created by Cecelia Bellcross, Ph.D., of the Emory University School of Medicine, these health departments have identified 116 women in Georgia who could benefit from further investigation of their family medical history.
“We have tested seven of the 1,700 women screened and have identified our first BRCA-positive individual,” said Alice Kerber, an advanced practice nurse in genetics with Georgia CORE. “This young lady also has multiple family members who have had breast cancer and therefore she could benefit from heightened surveillance.”
Knowing the risk for breast and ovarian cancers can help women prepare and make informed medical choices, which could help prevent cancer. More importantly, knowing one’s personal risk for these cancers can help women and their health care providers be more diligent in screening to detect cancers as early as possible.
During National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, DPH encourages all women to know their breasts and watch for any changes that could indicate a problem, including:
· New lump in the breast or underarm
· Thickening or swelling of part of the breast
· Irritation or dimpling of the skin of the breast
· Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or the breast
· Pulling in the nipple or pain in the nipple area
· Nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood
· Any change in the size or the shape of the breast
· Pain in any area of the breast
Talk with your health care provider about what kind of breast screening is right for you.
To evaluate your risk of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer and to get immediate results, complete the online survey at www.breastcancergenescreen.org.