Link Between Genetics and Cancer is Focus of Weekend Workshop

Updated: 04/19/2013 11:47 PM KSTP.com By: Naomi Pescovitz

This weekend breast and ovarian cancer survivors and their families will have the chance to learn more about genetics and the disease.

The Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Alliance is hosting a workshop Saturday to talk about hereditary cancers, genetic testing, counseling and treatment. Mutations in genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 can lead to much higher risks of cancer.

Ellen Kleinbaum was diagnosed with ovarian cancer nearly 22 years ago.

"I woke up from my hysterectomy and my family was standing around my bed sobbing so that's when I knew something was really wrong," Kleinbaum said.

Kleinbaum's ovarian cancer came back twice. Several years later she decided to get genetic testing.

"The statistics, when they show it to you, when they slide the paper across saying that you are positive said that I had an 85 percent chance of having breast cancer. Well that was daunting," Kleinbaum said.

Kleinbaum later developed and survived breast cancer. Her two daughters were also tested. One is positive for the gene.

"It's a very hard discussion to have with family members, my children, my siblings, but I felt that I was giving them the gift of knowledge," Kleinbaum said.

"Is a genetic test helpful to me? I think a genetics professional could help you make that decision. The decision might be no, but then you feel better about it" said Shari Baldinger, Genetic Counselor at Abbott Northwestern Hospital's Virginia Piper Cancer Institute.

The test is not meant for everyone. Just this month, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended the screening for high-risk women only.

Kleinbaum said she decided to take the test for her family.

"I felt that it was my responsibility to give them the most knowledge possible," Kleinbaum said.

The workshop is on Saturday, April 20 from 2 - 5 p.m. at the Radisson Hotel Bloomington by Mall of America. It is free and open to the public. Click here for more information.