Northwell Health is enhancing genetic risk assessment for breast cancer at the Northwell Health Cancer Institute at the Huntington campus, thanks to a $600,000 donation from the Arlindo and Evelyn Jorge Family Foundation.
The Northwell Health Cancer Institute Precision Genetic Risk Assessment and Prevention Program is led by Noah Kauff, MD, chief of cancer genetics at Northwell Health Cancer Institute, and is designed for patients who may be at increased risk of getting breast cancer or already have a breast cancer diagnosis. The team providing this innovative care includes a genetics study coordinator to curate family histories, a genetics counselor, a radiology technician and a radiology nurse.
“The goal of this program is twofold — first, we want to assess breast cancer patients early in their treatment course about the possibility of inherited component to their cancer to better design precision treatment strategies,” Dr. Kauff said. “Second, we will be screening women presenting for routine mammography to see if they might benefit from genetic risk assessment or targeted screening and prevention approaches. And individuals who find out they have an elevated genetic risk can then relay that information to their family members and help those relatives clarify their risk and take advantage of proven prevention methods.”
As a result of this new program, Northwell Health Cancer Institute at Huntington breast surgeons will be integrating comprehensive genetic risk assessment into the routine initial evaluation of all appropriate breast cancer patients, streamlining this critical intervention early into the management process.
There are over 196,000 new breast, colon, pancreatic, prostate and ovarian cancer diagnoses in the United States each year that meet current guidelines to get a genetic risk assessment, Dr. Kauff noted. But, there are less than 1,100 cancer genetic counselors in the country thereby making it nearly impossible for each of these patients to get screened.
To streamline the process, breast cancer patients meeting specified criteria will watch an educational video instead of having a pre-testing appointment with a genetic counselor. If after viewing the video the patient chooses to proceed with genetic testing, they will use an electronic platform to enter pertinent details regarding their family history. Once the genetic testing results are back, these will be reviewed in concert with the family history centrally by the physicians and counselors of the cancer genetics team. If a cancer-causing mutation is identified or the family history is worrisome despite negative testing, the patient will be seen for a face-to-face follow-up with a member of the cancer genetics program. If, however, no cancer-causing mutation is identified and the family history is not worrisome, the patient will be informed of these results by phone, without ever having a face-to-face meeting with a genetic counselor.
This approach will be an efficient, responsible, and sustainable method of providing genetic risk assessment to patients newly diagnosed with cancer. With support from the Jorge Family Foundation, Northwell Health will also formally study this process with a goal of presenting this approach as a model for expanding this program throughout Northwell and eventually replicating it nationwide.
“I am so grateful to the Jorge family and their foundation for helping to make this a reality,” Dr. Kauff said. “This will make a tremendous difference in our communities.”
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