Previvors Need Expert Guidance, Close Surveillance

CURE, Fall 2011, Volume 10, Issue 3

Previvors have unique medical and psychosocial concerns that require specialized care.

From the time she was a little girl, Jennifer Doyle knew cancer was more common in her family than most. So, when she learned two years ago that she has a BRCA2 gene mutation, which increases risk of breast and ovarian cancers, she wasn’t too surprised. But she was determined to do everything she could to prevent developing cancer.

Every six months, Doyle, 33, visits the Peggy A. Bell Women’s Diagnostic and Breast Center at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas for an MRI and mammogram, as well as a visit with an oncologist or physician’s assistant. So far she’s cancer-free, and the visits boost her peace of mind.

“Being checked makes me feel so much safer,” she says. “If something develops, we’ll be able to catch it early. I’m the kind of person who needs to know everything I can about my health. Knowledge is power.”

Previvors—the phrase coined for people with hereditary gene mutations or family histories that put them at a higher risk for cancer than the general public—have unique medical and psychosocial concerns that require specialized care.

“Often, previvors face complex decisions about their cancer risk management options, which may include earlier or more frequent screening tests, preventive surgery or chemoprevention,” says Susan Peterson, PhD, an associate professor at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. “It is important for them to be followed by a healthcare team with expertise in managing hereditary cancer risk so they can avail themselves of appropriate risk management options and stay informed of new developments to help manage risk.”

For the latest guidelines for screening and follow-up care, visit the National Comprehensive Cancer Network website at nccn.org. The National Cancer Institute website, cancer.gov, has a tool to help find specialized healthcare providers who offer cancer risk assessments, genetic counseling and genetic susceptibility testing.