ORLANDO, Fla. — After a two-year fight, Channel 9 reporter Angela Jacobs is on the other side of her battle with a rare form of breast cancer.
And she knows she’s not alone.
One in eight women will be diagnosed with the disease in their lifetime.
Angela is sharing her journey to help shed light on how geneticists are unraveling mysteries within DNA to stop breast cancer in its tracks.
Her mother is an 16-year breast cancer survivor. When doctors found a malignant tumor in Angela’s right breast, she said she said she figured she’d walk a similar path as her mother: surgery, no chemotherapy and no radiation.
She was wrong. Angela’s battle included 56 treatments of both chemo and radiation, a transfusion and four surgeries.
“Ninety percent of women who get breast cancer don’t have an inherited mutation,” said Dr. Rebecca Moroose, director of cancer research at Orlando Health.
Going over Angela’s report, Moroose explained why her results are shared by so many.
Most often, she said, cancer is environmental, or the gene mutation causing it can’t be detected with current technology.
“It might be multiple genes that have minor differences but when they all cluster in a certain constellation, that could confer risk,” Moroose said.
She said the last thing anyone should think is that they are in the clear if their genetic test looks like Angela’s.
New mutations are discovered so often that guidelines are updated four times a year. The list of patients considered high risk constantly broadens.
“Now we know prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer, even melanomas, probably play a role in giving us the red light or the red flag that ‘hey, this patient, or this family, should be screened,’” Moroose said.
And for those who test positive for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 markers for breast and ovarian cancers, science is saving more lives by personalizing preventive treatment based on age.
“Some of those genes, if they’d come back with a mutation, might confer other cancer risks beyond breast cancer,” Moroose said. “And we’re starting to be able to separate certain genes to say, ‘so this one confers that risk so we should treat the patient this way.’”
Because of evolving genetic technology, Moroose said that women who tested negative for either of the BRCA markers before 2012 should be retested.
She added that patients who tested negative after 2012, should still check in with their doctors once a year to report any new cancers in their family history.
In Angela’s case, her mother’s breast cancer was hormone positive, found in nearly 80% of cases, but Angela’s was hormone negative, known as triple negative, or TNBC, an aggressive form that strikes less than 20%.
Unlike her mom, Angela’s treatment included five months of chemotherapy and a battle with a host of side effects, such as losing her hair. Five weeks of radiation treatment followed.
So what does it mean for Jacobs' sisters, brother and her combined seven nieces?
Moroose showed Jacobs the genetic “risk modeling evaluation” she encourages female family members to take based on a patient’s family health history. It can estimate their 10-year and lifetime risk.
“We want to identify those high-risk patients and help them, empower them, to reduce the risk,” Moroose said.
Doctors soon will be testing both a cell’s DNA and RNA, which may open an earlier genetic window in identifying risk, she said.