New breast cancer tests give hope to some women

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“I think it’s going to take off and I think it’s going to change the way that women go in for their yearly screening,” said Dr. Lynn Canavan, a breast surgeon.

Women like Latoyce Harvey. Thirty-five years old. Two children. Diagnosed with breast cancer. “I’m healthy otherwise – just this crazy incident,” said Latoyce.

To find out more about her cancer — Latoyce took the Braca blood test. It looks for two hereditary gene mutations found in 10 percent of women who get breast cancer. Braca is also being marketed to women without cancer – as a test to learn their cancer risk.

In Latoyce’s case Braca came back negative, leaving her to wonder – why me? But now there’s another kind of test that aims to help even more women find out if they’re at risk.

“Literally the past two to three months is when we’ve started seeing these tests come available for any woman walking the street,” said Dr. Canavan.

One’s called Decode, the other Onco-vue. They look for what are called gene “snips.” Non-hereditary gene variations found more often in women with breast cancer. Both tests are quick and painless; one involves a swab of the inside of the cheek, the other just a swish of mouthwash that’s collected in a vial.

Dr. Canavan is one of a small number of doctors in the country offering Onco-vue to patients. She says the early research is promising: “We think by the statistics we have right now that we can identify 60% of women who would be at risk for getting breast cancer.”

Some doctors still question the effectiveness of the new tests and they’re debating what to do with the results. Women found to be at higher risk can be monitored more often with mammograms but should they also be given risk reducing drugs or even preventative mastectomies?

Doctors are split on what to do. Latoyce Harvey hopes – over time – the tests will help more women avoid what she’s been through. “A bolt of lightning strikes us out of nowhere – healthy people – young people.”

The Braca test is available now through many doctors and major hospitals. It’s only for women with a family history or personal history of cancer.