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UCLA Magazine Winter 2004
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Winter 2004 Bruin Walk

Illustration of man at theater
Photography by Anne Burke

Fighting family cancers

Tatiana Day of Los Angeles grew up knowing that early-onset breast cancer ran in her family. But last year, when her father tested positive for a cancer-susceptibility gene called BRCA2, a vague threat turned into a real danger.

Day (pictured left), turned for help to the UCLA Family Cancer Registry. Part of the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, the registry offers confidential genetic counseling and testing, as well as the latest information on cancer and heredity for people with a strong family history of the disease. Since opening in 1997, shortly after the advent of genetic testing for hereditary breast-cancer susceptibility, the registry has served nearly 500 people.

While providing a service to people worried about hereditary cancer, the registry’s first mission is as a repository for information useful to researchers studying how cancers develop, and how they can be prevented, treated and cured. Without this ready access to family histories and lifestyle data, it might take researchers years to identify enough people and collect the information needed to conduct a study.

The news for Day, 26, was not good. Testing showed that she, too, carried the BRCA2 gene, giving her a lifetime breast-cancer risk as high as 80 percent. But Julianne Wojciak (right), the genetic counselor assigned to Day’s case, knew the right things to say and do. She explained the difference between a cancer diagnosis — which the BRCA2 gene was not — and a predisposition to cancer. She urged Day to take as much time as she wanted weighing her options, which ranged from close monitoring to prophylactic surgery.

Just as important, Day recalls, Wojciak “let me kind of pause and cry when I needed to.”

by Anne Burke

2005 The Regents of the University of California