NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Doctors have discovered a new gene mutation than can lead to breast cancer.
There is a test that can help stop it in its tracks, but it hasn’t been available to all at risk women — until now, CBS2’s Jessica Layton reported Wednesday.
These are happy days for Esther Wafula and her 20-month-old son, Ethan.
Esther was undergoing treatment for breast cancer when she found out she was pregnant. Chemo had to be delayed until her second trimester.
Today, she is cancer free.
But it was a difficult two-year journey.
“It was a hard conversation to have with my daughters. They just broke down and cried,” Esther said.
To learn more about her risk and her family’s moving forward, doctors performed a blood test for hereditary gene mutations that could indicate the chances for breast and other cancers.
Esther’s was negative, but the screening isn’t generally offered to Black and Hispanic women as frequently as it is to the higher-risk group of Ashkenazi Jewish women.
Now, that is changing.
“Women of color, stand up and be counted. Go and have this test,” Esther said.
The test is called “universal genetic testing,” and now through a program at Astera Cancer Care in New Jersey, it’s being made available at no cost to all women who had or are currently battling breast cancer.
“There’s been a lot of pushback about doing universal testing. It’s an expensive test. Well, the test is done once in a woman’s lifetime,” Dr. Michael Nissenblatt said.
Nissenblatt, an oncologist at Astera, said the center is looking at markers like BRCA 1 and 2 that can increase the cancer risk in women by as much as 70%.
Women who were screened for BRCA before 2014 are being urged to get re-tested because of the discovery of a new gene called P-A-L-B-2, which has only a slightly lower risk than BRCA.
With the discovery of this new gene, Nissenblatt stresses the importance of having genetic information from a broader population, citing a Columbia University study that shows the disparity.
“Twenty-one percent of women were Black have the genetic study done, 34% of whites have the study done. Underserved population,” Nissenblatt said.
At Astera, universal genetic testing will provide information Nissenblatt says will ultimately save thousands of dollars, and many thousands of lives.
“If we can make an early diagnosis, and stop the disease course, and it’s track, we can bring it to a close and cure that woman and cut down expenses,” he said.
For more on the test, please click here.
CBS2’s Jessica Layton contributed to this report.