Breast Cancer Precision Care: A Family Affair

This article also appears on the Weill Cornell Medicine Newsroom.

When Nila Charles was diagnosed with breast cancer, she was the mother of two young children, working long hours and caring for a family member who was also diagnosed with cancer.

"It was a tough time, but I rallied through it," Charles recalled. "My care team at Weill Cornell Medicine was incredible and helped me so much."

Charles discovered her diagnosis during a routine mammogram and learned that she was BRCA2-positive through a genetic testing program co-led by Dr. Melissa Frey, co-director of the genetics and personalized cancer prevention program in the Meyer Cancer Center and an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Weill Cornell Medicine.

Composite image of a patient and her care team.

Nila Charles, center, and her care team. From left: Dr. Jedd Wolchok, Dr. Melissa Frey, Dr. Tessa Cigler and Dr. Laura Riley.

People who have the BRCA genes have an increased risk of several cancers. This type of precision genetics testing is the future of medicine.

"Knowing that I'm BRCA-positive has empowered me to make the best possible decisions about my health," Charles said.

And her family's health.

In cases like Charles's, familial genetic testing is encouraged. This may impact how her family members, her four sisters and two daughters, make health decisions in the future.

"When Nila was diagnosed, we had just opened a clinical trial on clinician-facilitated cascade testing where the medical team works with the patient and their family to deliver genetic testing to relatives," said Dr. Frey , a gynecologic oncologist. "These genetic syndromes can affect whole families, not just the patient in front of us. With higher rates of relative testing, this program saves lives."

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