Film highlights breast cancer researcher, impact on families

5:02 PM, Aug 26, 2013   |    comments
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WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- We continue our special series of reports leading up the the premiere of Decoding Annie Parker, a film about the researcher who first proved that breast cancer could be hereditary.

Today, the work of Dr. Mary Clair King continues to change and protect lives, as the women in one Northern Virginia family showed us.

Before the BRCA genes were identified in the early 1990's families like those portrayed in the film Decoding Annie Parker were often told they were simply, tragically unlucky when one woman after another was diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer.

Today, the protective power of genetic testing can change the story for families like this one gathered around the breakfast table in Oakton, Virginia. Their family tree carries the BRCA 1 gene mutation. Question is: Who has it and who doesn't?

That's why Leslie Sorto and her two nieces have come to the genetic counseling program at Inova Breast Care Institute.

Leslie's mother and two aunts had breast cancer. An older sister has faced that diagnosis TWICE. Jennifer and Blythe's mom, another of Leslie's siblings, is battling ovarian cancer right now. Leslie, Jennifer and Blythe want to find out if they inherited the bad copy of the gene as well.

Grace-Ann Fasaye is a genetic counselor who says she's fielded more calls than ever since Angelina Jolie announced she has the BRCA 1 mutation, and chose to undergo a prophylactic mastectomy to reduce her cancer risk. These women will face a similar choice if they test positive for the mutation, and it is Fasaye's job to explain the test results and lay out their options.

Leslie goes first, giving a saliva sample that, these days, is just as accurate as a blood test. Jennifer, a 31-year-old wife and mom, takes the test too, along with her 19 -year-old sister, Blythe. Results usually come back in two weeks, and we are there when these women return to find out what their tests revealed.

The suspense builds as Fasaye lays out the findings.

"So Leslie, you tested negative," says Fasaye.

Leslie is relieved, especially since it means she won't pass the gene mutation on to her twin daughters.

As for her nieces, Jennifer and Blythe, Fasaye tells them, "Jennifer you tested positive, and Blythe you also tested positive."

The mood in the room changes rapidly, but neither woman is surprised.

Jennifer says she and her husband would like to have one more child before she considers prophylactic surgeries to have her breasts and ovaries removed. She will start aggressive cancer screening in the meantime.

Blythe is advised to begin breast cancer screening at age 25 and ovarian screening at 30.

But as they watch their mother fight ovarian cancer right now, both women says knowledge is the best weapon they have.

So, out of four sisters in one generation of this family, only Leslie doesn't have the BRCA 1 gene mutation. There are two brothers as well, and she wants them to get tested too. Why? The mutation can be passed down by men as well, and these men have daughters. The need for knowledge continues.

Join us on the red carpet October 1 at the AFI Silver Spring Theatre for the movie premiere of "Decoding Annie Parker." For more information, visit: http://www.wusa9.com/features/decodingannieparker/default.aspx