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Genetics alter diagnosis, treatment for breast cancer patients

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    Friday, October 4 2013 3:43 PM EDT2013-10-04 19:43:45 GMT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (FOX13) -

For Georgetta Carr, it is one of those life events where she remembers every day.

"They did the biopsy, that was on a Thursday and the phone rang on Friday and the doctor called and said, ‘I don't have good news. The mass is cancerous,'" recalled Carr, "The phone call when they called me for further diagnostic testing was bad. I cried; I cried all night. I was just scared. But the call to say that it was cancerous, I had a certain peace about myself."

Baptist Memorial's Mobile Mammogram Unit discovered a 1.4-centimeter mass on Carr's breast.

She later told her radiologist about her family history with cancer: Her aunt is a 40-year breast cancer survivor and her mother passed away from ovarian cancer.

"When the radiologist heard that she said, ‘Well that changes everything. We need to do a biopsy,'" said Carr.

Between five- and ten-percent of breast cancer patients have a hereditary gene causing breast cancer, according to Baptist Genetic Counselor Lorrell White.

"Considering who was diagnosed with cancer, what type of cancer was it, how old were they and then when we see multiple generations in a family affected with cancer, that's when we're starting to get a little more suspicious," said White.

For Carr, it changed the way doctors conducted testing and what treatment methods they used.

"What can change, for instance, if somebody is found to have a genetic mutation might be for that woman we might consider maybe some more aggressive surgeries to help the risk factor of a future breast cancer," said White, "Women especially with some of these genetic, hereditary breast cancer syndromes have more aggressive screenings. They get mammograms and other diagnostic imaging."

White added that lifestyle choices also affect the risk of breast cancer. Risk factors and treatment methods are why doctors encouraged Carr to make some lifestyle adjustments.

"Probably wasn't walking at the pace I normally walked at but I was out there walking, and I continue to exercise and you have to drink a lot of water, I followed those instructions," said Carr, "I drink a lot of water, I drink lots of fruits."

Carr is now teaching her two daughters about their family's history with cancer, and encourages other families to do the same with their family history of cancer and other illnesses.

But that's just one of her important lessons.

"What I've learned most is that the happiness of the family isn't with things; it's about being together and we embrace every day," said Carr.

To schedule an appointment with a genetic counselor, those who feel they are at a risk can call White at 901-226-4038.

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