After her mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer seven years ago, Gina McLoughlin asked her doctor about the BRCA test, a test that identifies a person’s family history and determines their risk for developing Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Syndrome.
McLoughlin’s doctor didn’t think the test was necessary since her mother, JoAnn Jermann, a Long Beach resident, developed ovarian cancer due to the hormone treatments she took at the time, but McLoughlin persisted. “When you have breast or ovarian cancer in your family it’s important to make sure you’re okay,” she said.
In April McLoughlin, an Island Park resident, had the test done by Long Island Radiology in Hewlett and waited six weeks for the test results to determine whether she had the BRCA1 gene which means a person has a higher chance of getting both ovarian and breast cancer while the BRCA2 gene is only ovarian cancer. She tested positive for the BRCA 2 gene. “It doesn’t mean I have ovarian cancer it just means that my chances of having cancer is elevated tremendously,” she said. “It gave me a chance to be proactive.”
Dr. Vicki Bayda of Long Island Radiology in Hewlett administered the BRCA test to McLoughlin and said the procedure is simple and noninvasive. “It’s like mouthwash; the patient swishes it around in their mouth and we send it to the lab,” she said.
McLoughlin, who works at Dr. Neil Berman’s dental office in Woodmere, immediately began receiving genetic counseling following the test results and was told the best thing she could do was to have a hysterectomy to remove her fallopian tubes, ovaries and uterus. “I discussed it with my doctor who didn’t suggest a double mastectomy because if I was taking out my ovaries and uterus then my chances of breast cancer would also go down,” she said. “I was done having my kids and I had seen my mother suffer for seven years.”
Bayda said it’s important for women to take the BRCA test as a measure to keep themselves healthy. “It makes a very big difference in the health of a person and they might be cheating themselves about taking measures that could save their lives,” she said. “If you don’t know the information then you don’t know your options and having that information opens up a world to keep us healthy.”
Two months ago, McLoughlin had a hysterectomy and although she was sore and tired, which are normal symptoms following the procedure, she feels great. “It’s given me a new outlook and I’m trying to take better care of myself,” she said. “I’m lucky that I found out about my options and had enough information.”
Dr. Mohan Mahadkar, chairman of the Department of Obstetrics/Gynecology at St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in Far Rockaway, said the most important thing women can do is to get annual mammograms starting at age 40 as well as do self-exams at least once a month. “If you feel something, see a doctor immediately,” he said. “Also have an annual gynecological exam. When we go back and look at the history in patients with ovarian cancer there are symptoms that patients and their physicians miss which are constipation, diarrhea, bloating and abdominal pain. It’s very important for them to get checked out if they suffer from those symptoms or have a family history.”
Despite testing positive for the BRCA 2 gene, McLoughlin considers herself lucky because she was able to be proactive about the disease and hopes other women will be too. “I want people to be aware that there’s a chance they may have this gene and by learning about it and researching it, they might never have to go through something more serious,” she said. “People don’t always realize what can happen to them.”
For more information about Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Syndrome and the BRCA test, visit www.learnabouthboc.com.