Patients will have better access to new high-risk cancer genetics services

October 13, 2023

New England Cancer Specialists now provides expanded services at all its locations in Maine and New Hampshire.

SCARBOROUGH, Maine — As Maine blankets itself in pink to mark Breast Cancer Awareness month, it may also be a time to determine if you are at genetic risk for breast cancer. 

Up to 10 percent of breast cancer cases are linked to an inherited faulty gene, according to the American Cancer Society.

New England Cancer Specialists is making new high-risk cancer genetics services available to patients, to help catch hereditary cancers early. This could give patients better access to preventative treatment and a chance at survival. 

To say that cancer runs in Robyn Bourget's family is an understatement. The disease not only affected her, a mother of two, but also her two older sisters, and her parents. 

Experts say only 5 to 10 percent of cancers are hereditary, developing from a genetic mutation in a person's cells at birth. After Bourget's mom and sisters discovered they were carriers of the same mutation, she also underwent genetic testing at New England Cancer Specialists when she was just 35 years old. 

"Once I learned about the mutation, I took preventative treatment options to reduce my risk," Bourget said.

That included surgery, annual mammograms, and breast MRIs to lower her risk of breast, ovarian, and skin cancer. Preemptive tools that would later catch stage 3 breast cancer.  Sadly, she lost her mom to the same disease 10 years ago.

"I had two large tumors and a significant impact on my lymph nodes; I would not have celebrated my 47th birthday," Bourget explained. 

She spoke at the grand opening of the NECS's High-Risk Cancer Genetics Clinic. Bourget and her family are part of a public awareness campaign about how genetic testing can save lives. 

All NECS locations in Maine and New Hampshire now offer genetic counseling, testing, assessments, and expanded patient management services. Oncology genetic counselors work with about 700 patients system-wide. 

If a patient wants to proceed with genetic testing of 84 genes related to cancer risk, they can submit a blood or saliva sample that can be mailed to a patient's home. Patients also meet with Dr. Elizabeth Dennis, who assesses factors in a patient's lifestyle, including diet and exercise; she then works with people who are carriers on how to prevent cancer and catch it early. 

"That may involve more aggressive breast imaging or, in some instances, risk reduction surgery, having an elective mastectomy to decrease risk," Dennis said.

NECS genetic counselors say most insurance plans cover the cost of this kind of testing if patients meet specific criteria. If a patient has to pay out of pocket, the cost is usually about 250 dollars or less.

After a double mastectomy and dozens of rounds of chemo and radiation, Bourget is grateful that she got the chance to fight cancer and survive.

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