Loma Linda University Medical Center Urges Women With Family History of Cancer to Seek Genetic Counseling

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Maheswari Senthil, M.D., surgical oncologist and cancer liaison physician at the Women’s Cancer and Surgical Oncology Center at Loma Linda University Medical Center, says if a woman is carrying the gene in question, there is a 50 percent chance that her children might inherit the gene.

“Women who harbor this mutation need to know that medical and social support is available to them and their families,” says Dr. Maheswari Senthil, surgical oncologist and cancer liaison physician at the Women’s Cancer and Surgical Oncology Center.

In the wake of actress Angelina Jolie’s public announcement that she recently underwent a preventive double mastectomy, Loma Linda University Medical Center urges women with a family history of cancer to have proper counseling and testing, if indicated, to see if they are at similar risk.

Jolie, 37, had her procedure after learning that she carries a mutation of the BRCA1 gene. BRCA stands for breast cancer susceptibility genes, a class of genes known as tumor suppressors, according to the National Cancer Institute. Mutations of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes sharply increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer. Jolie’s mother, actress and producer Marcheline Bertrand, died of ovarian cancer in 2007 at the age of 56.

“A non-invasive gene mutation testing, which is nothing more than taking a swab from inside the mouth, can determine if the woman is at risk and if the gene is mutated or not,” says Maheswari Senthil, M.D., surgical oncologist and cancer liaison physician at the Women’s Cancer and Surgical Oncology Center at Loma Linda University Medical Center.

According to Dr. Senthil, if a woman is carrying the gene, there is a 50 percent chance that her children might inherit the gene. Ideally, she says, the individual with the cancer is the best candidate to be tested, but if that can’t happen, then a similar test on the unaffected family member can be performed.

Dr. Senthil urges women who are potentially at high risk due to family history to contact their primary care provider and make an appointment for an initial physician screening. At that time the physician will take a history of the patient and see if she qualifies for the testing under guidelines developed by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network. If, as a result of the testing, it is revealed that the woman carries the mutated gene, various options for treatment will be confidentially discussed.

“Women who harbor this mutation need to know that medical and social support is available to them and their families,” says Dr. Senthil. “Through her bold public disclosure, Angelina Jolie has created great awareness in the country; but now it is up to each woman to seek out the information and medical experts who can help them make informed and well-grounded choices.”

Believing that coordination and communication are central to good health outcomes, Loma Linda University Medical Center http://www.lomalindahealth.org will open its new Women’s Cancer and Surgical Oncology Center next month. The center will help ensure comprehensive, seamless care for the patient by bringing gynecology and surgical oncologists together with medical and radiation oncologists -- all under one roof.

Under this design each patient’s individualized treatment plan is based on the collective input of medical, surgical, and radiation oncologists, pathologists, radiologists, and an entire team of specialists. And it takes into account not only the patient’s diagnosis but also his or her values and life circumstances. Helping implement this treatment plan is a team of specially trained nurse navigators who help guide the patient through the continuum of care and provide patients the support and education they need to prepare for surgery and ongoing monitoring. The center also encourages the involvement of families throughout the course of treatment, including during clinical as well as educational visits.

The cancer center is part of Loma Linda University Health’s comprehensive health system, which is widely respected as a healthcare leader pioneering work in such areas as organ transplants, proton treatment for cancers, cardiac care, physical rehabilitation, and acute pediatric and adult care as well as treatments for chemical dependence and other behavioral disorders. The health system – which includes Loma Linda University Medical Center and Children’s Hospital, LLUMC–East Campus, Behavioral Medicine Center, Heart & Surgical Hospital, LLUMC–Murrieta and physician clinics – collectively sees more than 40,000 inpatients and about 1.5 million outpatient visits a year. More information may be obtained at http://www.lomalindahealth.org.

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About Loma Linda University Health (LLUH)
Loma Linda University Health includes Loma Linda University's eight professional schools, Loma Linda University Medical Center's six hospitals and more than 900 faculty physicians located in the Inland Empire of Southern California. Established in 1905, LLUH is a global leader in education, research and clinical care. It offers over 100 academic programs and provides quality health care to 40,000 inpatients and 1.5 million outpatients each year. A Seventh-day Adventist organization, LLUH is a faith-based health system with a mission "to continue the teaching and healing ministry of Jesus Christ."

About Loma Linda University Medical Center (LLUMC)
Loma Linda University Medical Center’s comprehensive health system includes: Loma Linda University Medical Center, Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital, Loma Linda University Medical Center East Campus, Loma Linda University Behavioral Medicine Center, Loma Linda University Heart & Surgical Hospital, Loma Linda University Medical Center - Murrieta, and physician clinics. LLUMC is widely respected as a health care leader and is known for its pioneering and cutting-edge work in such areas as organ transplants, proton treatment for cancers, cardiac care, physical rehabilitation, acute pediatric and adult care, as well as treatments for chemical dependence and other behavioral disorders. LLUMC is the only Level 1 trauma Center in the San Bernardino, Riverside, Inyo, and Mono counties, which covers over 40,000 square miles in Southern California. With a total of 1,076 beds, the Loma Linda University Medical Center includes the only children’s hospital in the region. Loma Linda University Medical Center sees over 30,000 inpatients and more than 590,000 outpatient visits a year.

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Herbert Atienza
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