When Betsey Brownfield’s DNA cancer test results from the Healthy Nevada Project showed she carries the BRCA1 mutation, she took action — and for good reason.
After participating in the Healthy Nevada Project, an eye-opening call from a geneticist informed Brownfield of her status as a BRCA1 carrier, increasing her risk for cancer.
“The BRCA1 mutation increases the chance of getting ovarian cancer by about 30 to 50% and breast cancer by 60%,” says Certified Genetic Counselor, Scott Weissman, MS, CGC. “These are significant elevations in risk,” he adds, “but not every woman will go on to develop those cancers. The problem we’re at in the genetics space is we really can’t predict with good accuracy who is more likely to get cancer versus not.”
The Healthy Nevada Project
The Healthy Nevada Project, a partnership that includes Renown Health, the Desert Research Institute and Helix, is providing no-cost DNA testing to more than 50,000 Nevada residents in what has become one of the largest population health studies of its kind. The project contracted with Genome Medical Services to provide counseling to participants if their simple, DNA saliva test shows a gene mutation, like the BRCA1.
“It’s a blessing that I did the DNA testing,” says Brownfield.
Test Leads to Prevention
Ovarian cancer doesn’t present early warning signs or symptoms, so Brownfield’s gynecologist recommended she have her ovaries removed as a preventive measure, since she is beyond child bearing age. She also had an MRI, which was negative for breast cancer, and is continuing to monitor her breast health while deciding whether or not to have a double mastectomy.
“A lot of people that have the BRCA1, their mother had breast cancer, ovarian cancer and there is a huge family history. But mine was very isolated and I came up with it,” Brownfield reflects. “Anybody could really have it.”
“Knowledge is power,” she continues. “Once you know, you can decide what you want to do.”