Is genetic testing right for you in determining cancer risk?

should i get genetic testing to determine my risk for breast cancer?Medical advances have now allowed us to identify whether patients with certain inherited gene mutations have an increased risk of breast cancer.

Awareness is growing among patients that there are genes related to breast cancer and steps they can take to reduce future risk – but that doesn’t necessarily mean we should all get tested.

Here are some things to consider when deciding whether testing is appropriate for you:

Genetic testing will only provide insight into one area of risk.

You might still be high risk, even if the test shows no gene mutation. Maybe you have dense breasts, maybe you’ve never had kids, maybe you smoke, or you drink alcohol daily. Genetic abnormalities are associated with about 10 percent of cancer cases. That means no matter your test result, if you have factors that place you at higher risk, it is still important to have regular screenings.

If you were tested 5 years ago or more, you may consider retesting.

Back then, tests were only looking for mutations in BRCA 1 and 2. Now, tests routinely look at more than 25 genes that have a connection to increased risk for cancer development.

Make sure testing is appropriate for you.

Testing is most appropriate for those with a family history across multiple generations. Some special populations, such as Ashkenazi Jews, also have a higher tendency toward mutation and would be good candidates for testing.

Genetic testing isn’t just for women.

Gene mutations don’t discriminate and men get breast cancer as well. Testing, however, is not recommended on minors since the mutations inform lifetime cancer risk and children are too young to consider potential interventions.

You’ll want someone with expertise to help with the results.

There are interventions that may reduce the risk of cancer, from more frequently screenings to medication and surgery. Your primary care physician may be a good place to start the conversation, but often a specialist in breast cancer risk is best equipped to partner with patients to help them identify the next steps that are right for them. TMC offers a High-Risk Breast Clinic . Please call 324-2778 for more information.

Dr. Michele Boyce Ley, a board-certified breast oncology surgeon, serves as medical director of TMC’s Breast Health Program. She is accepting new patients and is located at 2625 N. Craycroft Road.

TMC High Risk Breast Clinic – Personalized care, options and support

Are you at an increased risk for breast cancer? One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. How do you know if you are high risk? If you are at high risk – what’s next?

Tucson Medical Center has designed a clinic just for women who have these questions about developing breast cancer. The TMC High Risk Breast Clinic is focused on providing in-depth education, advanced diagnostics and compassionate support to best help high risk patients choose their next steps. TMC’s experienced high-risk team recognizes that every woman’s risk factors are different and will assess risk, and then tailor a personalized care plan based on each patient’s individual needs.

A team approach

michele boyce ley md breast cancer surgeonPatients will work with a team of breast-health professionals –who have decades of diagnostic and treatment experience. The team includes a women’s health nurse practitioner, a certified nurse navigator, and a breast surgical oncologist. In addition, patients have access to imaging specialists and genetic counseling.

“The multidisciplinary approach is central to an effective high risk program,” said Medical Director Dr. Michele Boyce Ley, a board-certified, fellowship-trained breast surgical oncologist and a fellow of the American College of Surgeons.

As a breast cancer survivor, Dr. Boyce Ley brings a unique perspective to the clinic, empathizing with patients on their journey.

“Our team meets weekly to discuss the unique aspects of each patient’s care and challenges,” Boyce Ley explained. “We leave no stone unturned, and focus on making the best care recommendations to the most important member of the care team – the patient.”

Specialized services

The TMC High Risk Breast Clinic features state-of-the-art imaging diagnostics to facilitate early and accurate detection. The dedicated breast imaging center houses the latest equipment to provide the care team with clearer images, even for patients with dense breast tissue. On-site breast biopsies by experienced physicians offers convenience and timely results.

“Our next-level diagnostics provides clearer, overall images that help identify abnormalities earlier,” said Karen Narum, WHNP-BC, the board certified, women’s health nurse practitioner at the TMC High Risk Breast Clinic. “We use an advanced breast tomosynthesis, which combines enhanced mammography with modern computer software to create three-dimensional images of the breasts.”

A genetic-testing panel can be performed to further identify risk factors and provide additional information to help guide patients through the decisions and options that are available. If surgery is determined to be the best option, patients can rely on advanced surgical techniques, including nipple sparing mastectomy and Hidden Scar techniques, which are both effective and respectful of appearance.

Meaningful support and resources

The TMC breast-health nurse navigator will be by the patient’s side every step of the way, functioning as a personal advocate, answering questions, arranging visits with specialists, lining up tests and coordinating care.

“A high-risk diagnosis can be overwhelming,” says Mary Verplank, BSN, RN, breast-health nurse navigator. “We’re here to help with anything and everything – from scheduling appointments to connecting patients with community resources.”

The nurse navigators work one-on-one with patients and family members to:

• familiarize them with all aspects of the treatment plan.

• share hospital and community resources.

• coordinate support services that may address specific needs during treatment.

• help resolve any issues that may arise, from financial questions to transportation.

For further information or to schedule an appointment call the TMC breast health nurse navigator at (520) 324-4848 or Breast.Navigator@tmcaz.com.

Are you at high risk for breast cancer? Not sure? Take our Breast Cancer Health Risk Assessment. Following completion we send the report to your email address so that you may take it to your primary care provider. Have questions? Our certified nurse navigator will reach out to those at high risk.

breast cancer risk assessment

Second opinions, survival rates and treatment options: TMC One’s breast oncology surgeon weighs in on cancer diagnoses

Throughout the month of October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we tapped into the expertise of Dr. Michele Boyce Ley, TMC One’s new board-certified breast oncology surgeon and medical director of TMC’s Breast Health Program. We’ve shared information with you including how to assess your breast cancer risk, asked her to weigh in on myths about breast screening including mammography and self-breast exams and had her tell us what to do – and consider – if you find a lump in your breast.

To round out this blog series, we asked her opinion on a story that was recently released by the Susan G. Komen organization titled: Debunking Five Common Myths About Breast Cancer Treatment.

We decided to focus on the three Dr. Boyce Ley thought would be the most meaningful.

Myth #1: I don’t have time to get a second opinion because I must begin treatment as soon as possible.

BDP36480First – that second opinion issue. “Second opinions are important for a couple of reasons,” said Dr. Boyce Ley. “Maybe the physician you initially went to isn’t a breast specialist. Or maybe they’re just not a good fit for you. Women need to know that it’s OK to find another doctor! Don’t worry about offending your current doctor or the person who referred you to them. It’s your health. People need to feel empowered to get multiple opinions.” Dr. Boyce Ley added that second opinions are also great because perhaps the first time around, you didn’t quite understand all of the information. Or maybe one physician has a treatment option that another doctor didn’t offer you.

Second – how soon after diagnosis should treatment start? The National Breast and Cervical Center Early Detection Program guidelines recommend starting treatment within 60 days of being diagnosed. Dr. Boyce Ley said that timeframe is readily accepted by most people – that two months is the maximum amount of time a patient should wait before starting therapy. She added that most patients in Southern Arizona begin therapy within a month of being diagnosed. “I think this is really hard for patients,” she said. “They feel like it’s an emergency, but realistically, it takes years for the cancer to grow. A couple of weeks in the life of breast cancer doesn’t change the outcome. Even a patient with an aggressive cancer will usually start therapy within a week or two.”

Myth #2: Everyone diagnosed with breast cancer dies from breast cancer or everyone diagnosed with breast cancer survives.

Dr. Boyce Ley stressed that breast cancer is not a death sentence. With modern treatment, an estimated 90 percent of women with early-stage breast cancer will go on to live five or more years after diagnosis without it recurring. Of course survival rates vary based on what stage the cancer is in and what kind of behavior the breast cancer has. According to the National Cancer Institute, there are about three million breast cancer survivors in the United States. However, more than 40,000 women and more than 400 men still die from breast cancer every year. The reality is that while most people will survive breast cancer, unfortunately some patients will not.

Myth #3: Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are more harmful than helpful.

Decades of breast cancer research have proven that chemotherapy and radiation therapy saves lives. “We know that these are two things that contribute to better survival,” said Dr. Boyce Ley. “Historically, doctors have gone from giving no chemotherapy to giving too much chemotherapy and now we’re working hard to give patients just the right amount.”

She added that doctors these days have lots of ways to analyze a patient’s cancer to identify more clearly what treatment would benefit the patient. This allows a treatment plan to be tailored to that specific patient. “We have ways to identify which patients are going to benefit from which targeted therapies,” said Dr. Boyce Ley. “The same can be said for targeted radiation. We have the ability to target one part of the breast where the cancer is and avoid radiation damage to the heart and lungs. Those are things we didn’t have available to us 15 years ago.”

Dr. Boyce Ley is accepting new patients! She is located at 2625 N. Craycroft Rd #201. Call (520) 324-BRST (2778) to make an appointment.

To schedule a mammogram, call (520) 324-2075. For more information about our free mammogram program for uninsured women, call the TMC for Women Breast Center at
(520) 324-1286 to review qualifications and schedule an appointment.

Thinking pink for October and assessing your breast cancer risk

BDP36545October is recognized as Breast Cancer Awareness month, and with so much information readily available under the “pink cloud,” we agree with you that sometimes it all can be overwhelming. So your grandma and your aunt had breast cancer – but your mom didn’t. Are you considered high risk or not? What is the magic age for a mammogram these days – is it still 40? What’s this I hear about starting at age 35? And with all the attention about Angelina Jolie’s recent double mastectomy, is that really the only way to ensure that you never fall victim to this devastating disease? With an overload of information available at your fingertips about breast cancer, what’s the best way to dissect it all?

We sat down with TMC One’s new breast oncology surgeon Dr. Michele Boyce Ley. She’s a board-certified breast cancer surgeon and medical director of TMC’s Breast Health Program. Dr. Boyce Ley brings high-level, compassionate specialty care to TMC’s well established and respected program. We asked her to break down the most important things you should know about breast cancer and we’re going to share her thoughts in a new post each week throughout the month of October.

First up: that high-risk question.

As women, we are all at risk of getting breast cancer. Yes, men are also at risk. But simply being a woman is the number one risk factor. Others include:

∙ getting older
∙ family history
∙ not having children or having children after age 35
∙ receiving hormone replacement therapy
∙ obesity
∙ lack of exercise
∙ more than four alcoholic drinks a week

Let’s focus on that family history for a bit. Dr. Boyce Ley explains the key here is if multiple people from multiple generations in your family have been diagnosed, then you’re considered high-risk. “If your aunt had breast cancer when she was 65, for example, it’s probably not as important as if your mom had breast cancer at age 45,” she said.

Additionally, there are some easy-to-use scoring methods online to help you figure out if you’re high-risk or not. Dr. Boyce Ley is a fan of the bright pink website that offers a user-friendly tool. The National Cancer Institute also offers an online assessment. Still not sure? It’s best to get established with a breast specialist to assess your risk and what to do about it. A breast specialist can also help you figure out your breast density which oftentimes can be another risk factor.

Genetic testing is also an option, but proceed with caution. It’s not for everybody, and there are lots of caveats to it. Dr. Boyce Ley says it really needs to be done by a breast health specialist. Testing used to be limited to just testing for the BRCA 1 and 2 genes. Now there are numerous companies which offer genetic testing for up to 25 different markers. Certainly good information to have, but oftentimes it turns into a case of “We have this info. Now what do we do with it?”

While these mutations have been identified, it takes a highly trained team of clinicians to know how to interpret the results. Genetic testing can make a big difference in the treatment planning but it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. “The testing can be helpful, but it’s not helpful in the same way for every person,” said Dr. Boyce Ley.

“I always tell my patients who want to pursue genetic testing this: Let’s think this through. If you get the testing done, and you get these results, what are you going to do about it? Your motivation might be to protect yourself or simply to help your children figure out their risk.”

Dr. Boyce Ley warns, however, that testing can have implications for an entire family. “Sometimes there is guilt associated with it if people realize they have passed this gene on to their kids. This isn’t like getting a blood test and finding out you have high cholesterol. It’s a bit more complex than that,” she said. That’s why it’s important to sit down and talk with an expert. Insurance coverage of genetic testing has gotten measurably better with the exception of Medicare, which is more restrictive in covering the cost.

Bottom line: Have a plan before you get genetic testing done.

Doctors continue to develop a better understanding about what characteristics constitute a high-risk patient, and there are an assortment of new drug therapies in the pipeline that work to reduce a patient’s risk. “Just because you’re identified as high-risk doesn’t necessarily mean you need an invasive procedure,” Dr. Boyce Ley said.

Something super simple you can do that isn’t talked about much? Exercise and manage your weight. “It’s been shown over and over again that maintaining a healthy weight and exercising more than four times a week reduces the risk of breast cancer. Those are things you don’t need to see a doctor for. They’re not easy, but they’re free!” she said.

Dr. Boyce Ley is accepting new patients!
She is located at TMC One, 2424 N. Wyatt Dr. #100, on the TMC campus.
Call (520) 324-BRST (2778) to make an appointment.


Tucson Medical Center | 5301 E. Grant Road | Tucson, Arizona 85712 | (520) 327-5461