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Monongahela Valley Hospital Is One of Few Hospitals in Nation Providing Genetic Risk Assessment Prior to Mammograms

Julia A. Smith, M.D., Ph.D. photo

Julia A. Smith, M.D., Ph.D.
(October 21, 2015 - Carroll Township, Pa.)

Monongahela Valley Hospital (MVH) is one of only a few hospitals in the United States that automatically assesses a genetic risk for breast cancer prior to a woman's screening mammogram.

"Every hospital is trying to offer genetic testing for breast cancer, but Monongahela Valley Hospital has set up a program to capture screening patients when they go in for their routine mammograms," Julia A. Smith, M.D., Ph.D., told a standing room only audience at MVH's 26th Annual Medical Staff Symposium on Oct. 21. Dr. Smith is the clinical director of the Cancer Screening Program of the Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Cancer Center at New York University Medical Center.

"You assess a woman's risk at Stage Zero - before cancer has even been identified," explained Dr. Smith. "By assessing the genetic risk, Monongahela Valley Hospital is making people aware of their risk who may never even have been aware that one existed for them. They are able to have their breast cancer risk evaluated prior to their mammogram and that's unusual."

Dr. Smith was one of four national speakers who participated in MVH's Medical Symposium titled, "Update in Cancer Management."

Monongahela Valley Hospital is in the process of creating a Breast Care Center that will be under the direction of breast surgeon Natalie Furgiuele, M.D., F.A.C.S.

"It is proven that one of the best ways to treat breast cancer is for women to know their risks," said Dr. Furgiuele. "More than a year ago we began offering the risk assessments for women who come to Monongahela Valley Hospital and HealthPLEX Imaging for their screening mammograms."

Prior to a woman's screening mammogram, a member of MVH's breast care team performs the risk assessment by asking a series of questions that help determine the risk of developing breast cancer. Based on the risk assessment, genetic testing may be suggested. Monongahela Valley Hospital offers a 25-gene panel of which BRCA1 and 2 are included. These find cancers that overlap with breast cancer including colon, endometrial, pancreatic melanoma and ovarian cancers.

People are born with the BRCA1 (breast cancer gene 1) and BRCA2 (breast cancer gene 2) genes. When functioning normally, these genes do not pose any risk to a person's health. However, some people may be born with or experience mutations of the BRCA genes. Though researchers are still uncertain what causes changes in these genes, those who have BRCA mutations have a 50 to 85 percent chance of developing breast cancer. It is relatively uncommon to have an inherited BRCA gene mutation - as the BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations are responsible for only approximately 5 percent of breast cancers. Genetic testing is usually a three-step process.

  • Identification of those at risk and offering testing
  • A blood test, or buccal smear, where cells are swabbed from the mouth, is performed
  • A discussion of the test results between the person and the physician

"What Monongahela Valley Hospital is doing is very important," said Dr. Smith. "They are assessing risk among people who never had cancer so that they can intervene early. That's very important."

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