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Supporting Patients with Increased Risk for Cancer

MedStar High-Risk Assessment and Cancer Prevention Clinic

Pictured above are Dr. Yvonne Ottaviano chief of Medical Oncology at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center, and her team at the High-Risk Assessment and Cancer Prevention Clinic.

The fear of developing cancer is even greater for those with a family history. Now, with the help of a new MedStar Health program, patients with a predisposition to the deadly disease can get the expert support they need to minimize their risk of developing it—or catch it in its most treatable stages.  

Launched in 2017, the MedStar High-Risk Assessment and Cancer Prevention Clinic brings together a team of cancer specialists and genetic counselors to help weigh a patient’s risk for cancer and other inherited diseases, develop a plan of prevention, and take the necessary follow-up measures.  

The process begins with a two-hour assessment, reviewing family history, lifestyle, genes and other cancer- causing factors. Following that meeting, a patient may pursue genetic testing—which involves sending a small blood sample to a genetics lab for analysis.  

For those patients found to be carriers of a cancer gene mutation, but who have not yet developed the disease, the MedStar team provides the guidance they need to make important decisions to minimize risk.  

Anna-Lisa Marcum, a patient who falls into this category, sought the support of the clinic to tailor a prevention plan to reduce her risk of developing cancer.  

She’s a mother of two whose own mother and grandmother both died of cancer in their 40s.  

“Even though I kind of expected it, it was still hard to hear,” she says of learning that she is a carrier of the BRCA-1 gene mutation, the most common cause of inherited breast and ovarian cancers.

 Source: MedStar High Risk Assessment and Cancer Prevention Clinic – https://www.medstarcancer.org/high-risk-assessment-and-cancer-prevention/ 

Working with a team of experts at the clinic, Marcum decided to undergo prophylactic mastectomy surgery and have her ovaries removed to reduce her risk of developing cancer.  

While she chose surgical prevention, others who test positive for a cancer gene mutation may elect to undergo more frequent mammograms, MRIs, colonoscopies, and blood tests to keep an eye on their health.  

For these patients, there’s a 50/50 chance that their children also will inherit the gene mutation, says Yvonne Ottaviano, MD, chief of medical oncology and director of breast oncology at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center, where the clinic is based.  

“We need to keep them abreast of the latest screening and surveillance techniques so that they never develop cancer,” she says. “Follow up is the key.”

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