Preventing Cancer with Gene Therapy - Janet Ihde, MD

By: DocsTalk

Gene therapy replaces a faulty gene or as a new gene in an attempt to cure disease or improve your body's ability to fight illness. We spoke with Dr. Janet Ihde at Desert Regional Medical Center and asked her about gene therapy in cancer treatments. Gene therapy I think will be proving to be the key to preventing in treating cancer in the future and not just breast cancer but all cancer. The human genome project was completed 10 years ago.

This analyzed all the DNA within the human cell and they noticed that there were 3 billion different types of combination in a DNA coil. The coil is squished down into a chromosome. The chromosome is made up of DNA segments and it's these segments that are mutated that cause cancer. All of cancer is a mutated gene and they're looking at how to change this gene back to normal whether it's putting a little virus that's carrying normal DNA into that gene or whether it's turning off genes or on genes. That's the future of treating cancer. The incidence of cancer in patients is dependent not just on environmental factors, it depends on inheirited genetic abnormalities. It's a combination of both.

The study of the breast cancer gene is becoming more and more useful and applied it to more and more patients, For example: We're looking at tumors who carry triple negative features. When we say triple negative features, this is a tumor that's ER negative PR negative, HER2/new negative and patients who have triple negative tumors qualify for breast cancer gene testing under the age of 60 irregardless of their family history; because they found that one of the breast cancer genes is usually what we call triple negative. There are two ways to do the BRCA gene test.

One is checking the saliva, and the other one is a blood draw. These are sent to a specialized lab that analyzes the different combinations of the DNA segment to see which one is mutated and if they're carrying a high risk of developing breast cancer. In patients who carry the gene, there is a 87% chance life long of developing breast cancer and most of these occur before the age of 50. There's also up to a 60% chance of carrying a risk of ovarian cancer with BRCA1 and a 40% chance of developing ovarian cancer with the BRCA2 gene.

Preventing Cancer with Gene Therapy - Janet Ihde, MD

These are important to know because the patient at that time if they're carrying this gene can be offered, I offer them 3 ways to be managed. One is close follow-up which requires close MRI follow-up as well as mammography follow-up. So that if they do carry the gene and they develop cancer its picked up early at a curable stage. The second one is to do what we call chemo prevention which usually involves giving them medication such as Tamoxifen to decrease their chance of developing breast cancer in the future. Arimidex also has been noted to decrease the chance of breast cancer development by as much as 50% in these patients. That's still considered high and the best way to treat these patients is still prevention mastectomies. These are patients who qualify for skin sparing mastectomies and immediate reconstruction and this will decrease their chance of developing breast cancer down to under 10%.

Gene therapy holds a promise of treating a wide range of diseases including cancer. For the American Health Journal, I'm Lora Windsor.

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