Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers Center for Cancer Genetics and Prevention

Judy Garber, MD

The Center for Cancer Genetics and Prevention (CGP) is on the leading edge of cancer prevention, using the newest and most sophisticated genetic tests to help people assess and manage their risk for developing the disease. But staff members go beyond simply providing test results. They offer patients and their families personal genetic counseling, screening evaluations, and strategies to reduce cancer risk.

“It’s one thing to talk with people about their risk of developing cancer, and it’s another to try to help them deal with it,” says Judy Garber, MD, MPH, director of the center. “We don’t just conduct an assessment. We follow these patients. We help them manage their lifestyle. We care for them, and for their families.”

In 2010, the center and its Friends of Dana- Farber Cancer Genetics and Prevention Clinic helped around 1,200 patients and family members. The clinic offers its services not just on Dana-Farber’s main campus in the Longwood Medical Area, but also at Dana-Farber satellite centers throughout the region, including Milford, Mass., South Weymouth, Mass., Londonderry, N.H., and Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood.

The clinic works to help women better understand their risk of developing ovarian and breast cancer, as well as associated prevention and treatment strategies. While all women have some risk, women with a family history of breast cancer in close relatives younger than age 50 have a greater probability of developing one or both diseases over their lifetimes.

About 10 percent of breast cancers are hereditary, and women who carry mutations in either of two genes, BRCA1 or BRCA2, have a lifetime risk between 55 percent to 85 percent of developing breast cancers, and a similar risk of developing ovarian cancer. Staff members tailor strategies to help these women adopt a healthier lifestyle and potentially ward off cancers before they materialize.

Research is also a key component of the center, where multiple studies are under way to examine methods to reduce breast cancer in higher-risk women and explore the complex psychosocial issues related to genetic testing and harboring a susceptibility gene. Findings from one large study suggest that PARP inhibitors could form the basis of effective prevention strategies for women with inherited breast cancer risk. Additional research is focused on the potential use of PARP inhibitors against advanced ovarian cancer. Dr. Garber and others at the center are also working with Dana-Farber colleague Jennifer Ligibel, MD, to examine the effects of exercise on reducing cancer risk.

Dr. Garber says she can envision a day when a breast cancer gene test will screen for a larger percentage of diseases, help identify at-risk women, and guide cancer prevention strategies. Dr. Garber says, “This is true of heart disease already, and, in many ways, it’s what we hope for in cancer.”

 

Courtesy of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

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