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Many Roles of Testing

Genetic testing can help patients at different stages, genetic counselor Nicole Boxer tells the Journal News. She adds that it can help in prevention, diagnosis, and in choosing treatment approaches.

"Essentially, we analyze a patient's family history to determine if the development of their breast cancer is due to something hereditary or not," Boxer tells the Journal News. "Not everyone needs to have genetic testing, and actually those who do is actually a minority."

Despite a lack of family history of disease, Patty Ferris underwent genetic testing when she was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer at age 38 in 2004. This found that she did not harbor any disease-linked BRCA gene mutations, and she opted for a mastectomy, as her tumor was too large for a lumpectomy. Had her BRCA testing results been different, she says she would've had a double mastectomy and her ovaries removed.

According to the Journal News, Ferris still sees her oncologist even though she's been disease-free for years as new research uncovers more about different gene mutations linked to breast cancer and Ferris has aso sought gene-panel testing.

"In the past, genetic testing looked at only one or two genes, but now panel or multi-gene testing is becoming more common, even though the research in this area is still ongoing," Karen Green, Ferris' oncologist at White Plains Hospital, adds. "There is new science, new genetics that is relevant with her case."