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In her role, Gurganus will provide genetic testing and counseling to cancer patients who have personal or family histories of cancer, or have known hereditary cancer syndromes.

Published Dec 18th, 2019

By Carol McPhail

CMcPhail@health.southalabama.edu

Cassie Gurganus has joined USA Health Mitchell Cancer Institute as the region’s only certified genetic counselor specializing in cancer.

In her role, Gurganus will provide genetic testing and counseling to cancer patients who have personal or family histories of cancer, or have known hereditary cancer syndromes. “I review a patient’s personal and family history with them,” she said. “We discuss the process of genetic testing and what the results mean for them and for their families.”

While all cancer involves genetic mutations, not all of those mutations are inherited, Gurganus said. The National Cancer Institute estimates that inherited genetic mutations play a role in about 5 to 10 percent of all cancers.

Patient health histories raise red flags when one or more first- or second-degree family members are diagnosed with cancer before age 50, the same type of cancer, two or more different cancers, a rare cancer, or a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation. A mutation in a BRCA gene, for instance, significantly increases a woman’s lifetime risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers.

Although DNA testing through sites such as 23andMe is popular, Gurganus warns that such services do not provide comprehensive results on inherited cancer syndromes. “There are certain limitations to direct consumer testing,” she said. “It’s important to talk to a genetic counselor to discuss the level of testing and the limitations to that type of testing.”

Gurganus, a native of Jasper, Ala., was considering studying medicine when she discovered a passion for genetic counseling, especially in the field of cancer. “I liked the way I could spend time with my patients in genetic counseling and see the impact that it can have on them,” she said.

Gurganus earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and a master’s degree in genetic counseling from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She most recently worked as a genetic counselor in the UAB Department of Genetics.

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