Part of the essential work of the Bhalwani Familial Cancer Clinic is to identify women who can benefit from the most advanced breast cancer screening, and to make the technology available to them.

With the help of the Bhalwani Family Charitable Foundation’s targeted giving, the Clinic  is pursuing this mission each day. When a tumour is caught early, breast cancer has one of the highest survival rates of all cancers.

According to recommendations by the Ontario Breast Screening Program, high-risk women should receive a mammogram with an MRI or ultrasound each year.

Determining cancer risk is one of the services of the Bhalwani Familial Cancer Clinic. By reviewing family history, via conversations and medical records, and performing genetic screening, the Clinic is able to direct women at greater risk of developing breast cancer to the advanced imaging that can save their lives.

Mammograms can discover cell abnormalities while they are small and have not spread in the breast or throughout the body. Regularly screening lowers mortality risk.

In addition to this proven technology, many at-risk women can benefit from a breast cancer gene test. This test is able to detect mutations in genes BRCA1 and BRCA2, which can indicate the initial stages of breast cancer or ovarian cancer. Mutations of these genes have also been linked to greater risk of developing pancreatic cancer, and, for men, prostate cancer.

A predisposition to mutation can be inherited from either side of the family. A negative test showing no mutation of these two genes does not mean that there is no cancer risk — there are other genes that are often involved in the development of malignancies.

Testing gives you and your doctor solid data to gauge your risk and identify any problems. Beyond testing, counselling is a key component of the services offered by the Bhalwani Familial Cancer Clinic. Tests can reveal risks, but only you, in consultation with your medical team, can make the difficult decisions that may be required if a mutation or tumour is detected. In some cases, patients opt to act proactively, choosing surgery that can reduce risk even before a malignancy is detected. This is only advised in rare cases, when there is a strong pattern of breast cancer that appears in each generation.

To broaden the range of information available in the decision-making process, patients may also choose to ask relatives to take a genetic test. This can be especially valuable for close family members who have had breast or ovarian cancer. If the test of a relative shows a mutation in a specific BRCA gene, the patient’s own genetic testing can be focused on that particular gene.

As part of its counselling and education services, the Clinic also recommends that all women take steps to reduce their breast cancer risk. This includes maintaining a healthy body weight, getting regular exercise, limiting alcohol, quitting smoking or never starting, and also weighing the risks of certain medications, such as birth control pills or hormone replacement therapies.