RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) – Janice Hedwall is a 13 year survivor of a rare type of cancer. Fallopian tube cancer.
I talked to her on a Wednesday afternoon at the Massey Cancer Center about her decision several years ago to undergo genetic testing. Genetic testing would determine whether or not she carried the BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 gene that increases a woman’s risk for breast and ovarian cancer.
She told me she expected to test positive for the gene mutation because several women in her family had died from breast cancer. And she had other cancer deaths in her family. But she said she did not cry until her daughters tested positive. She says her first tears were for them.
Doctors said they inherited the BRCA 1 gene from Hedwell.
She says a parent always hopes to pass on great things to her children, but unfortunately she says she passed this on.
Genetic counselor Heather Creswick says while most of us associate BRCA 1 and 2 with breast cancer – the mutation is linked to other diseases. Creswick says BRCA 1 and 2 prevent tumors from growing in breast tissue, ovarian tissue, and pancreatic tissue. She says that’s why mutations in those genes put you at higher risk for those cancers.
Armed with their test results, Hedwall and her daughters took aggressive action to stay healthy: all three women had their breasts removed.
Her oldest daughter also had a complete hysterectomy and her sister will too- reducing their cancer risk from over eighty percent to two percent.
Hedwall said she did it because she was not willing to be a soldier again. She says she decided to be aggressive and her daughters took the same path.
While Hedwall and her daughters chose surgery, there are other options for women who test positive for the gene mutation. You can increase your screenings, take certain medication to reduce your risks, have a blood test to screen for ovarian cancer, or have a transvaginal ultrasound.
Genetic testing is not for everyone. There are certain markers that could make you a candidate: you have a family history of similar cancers, you’re diagnosed with cancer at a young age, you’re diagnosed with two different cancers in your lifetime, or you have a family history of rare cancers in your family.