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Jessa Blount has joined USA Mitchell Cancer Institute as a certified genetic counselor. She previously worked at Sentara Cancer Genetics Services in Norfolk, Virginia.
Rapid advances in the genetics field are opening new scientific insights into hereditary cancer syndromes, Blount said.
“One of the reasons I find the field of genetics so fascinating is the fast pace at which we are learning more about how the human genome works, or why it fails to work properly,” she said. “Recent research shows that we can more accurately treat a cancer with certain types of chemotherapy once we learn (that) someone’s cancer is due to a specific gene change.”
For the past six years, Blount has worked with patients with a personal or family history of cancer connected to a hereditary cancer syndrome. Heredity cancer syndromes occur when a gene mutation is passed through the family, increasing family members’ chances of getting cancer.
For those with a gene change, healthcare providers can develop an effective medical management plan, Blount said. A plan can include cancer screening to detect cancer when it is easiest to treat, or even preventative surgeries to help reduce the risk of developing cancer.
“The goal with genetic testing is to empower patients to be as proactive as possible in their health care,” she said.
While many patients come to Blount feeling overwhelmed, anxious or scared, she said, they are often grateful for the information that genetic counseling provides. If they do not have hereditary cancer syndrome, they are relieved. If they do, it becomes clearer what is causing cancer in their family members.
In addition to offering genetic counseling, Blount will organize educational programs for healthcare providers, develop a high-risk screening program at local breast centers and conduct research at MCI.
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