Winter 2004 Bruin
Photography by Anne Burke
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
Just as important, Day recalls, Wojciak “let
me kind of pause and cry when I needed to.”
by Anne Burke