Genetic testing helps answer breast cancer questions

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WZZM) -- Women in West Michigan have many options to help them survive breast cancer, including a new service that could help prevent the disease altogether.

The Comprehensive Breast Center at Mercy Health Lacks Cancer Center includes a genetic testing lab. There, women can find out if they carry the breast cancer gene and their chances of developing breast cancer. It's an advancement that is saving lives right here in West Michigan.

"It was probably one of the hardest things I've ever done," Kelly Ohrtman says of watching her mother fight a losing battle with breast cancer for nearly 14 years. Her grandmother also died of breast cancer.

"It's always something that I've wondered about I guess," Ohrtman said about her own chances of developing the disease.

Soon, she won't have to wonder any more. At 28 years old, Ohrtman is considered high-risk for getting breast cancer, because of her family history.

She's decided to undergo genetic testing to see if she has the BRCA1 or BRCA2 breast cancer gene.

"If you do have one of these gene mutations, there is up to an 87% chance that you could develop breast cancer," says Mercy Health Saint Mary's genetic counselor Sarah Keilman. She walked Ohrtman through the process of genetic testing.

"The whole point of doing this is to make sure that she and her sister never have to go through what her mother went through," said Keilman. "This is the only part of genetics where we get to prevent disease."

Soon, Ohrtman will know what her future holds when it comes to breast cancer, and that's giving her peace of mind.

"It's actually making me more relaxed, talking about it more, I think," she said.

Ohrtman is expecting a phone call about the results in about three weeks.

"Many people presume they're positive because of their family history, so when I give a negative result they are so pleased, and they're happy and relieved -- but telling someone they're positive can be hard," Keilman said. "I want to make sure I offer them the support, let them know we have a plan. You're not alone; you've got a whole team here. We're ready for you. But it's still very scary."

If Ohrtman does test positive, her doctor will develop a plan. She'll undergo screenings several times a year, so that if she does develop breast cancer, it's caught at its earliest stages.

Ohrtman hopes her genetic testing encourages other high-risk women to get their own testing.

Most insurance covers gene testing for any woman considered at high risk for developing breast cancer.


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