Thirteen years ago, after several of her siblings were diagnosed with cancer, Anne Wajcer knew she had no choice but to act.
The mother of three got tested for a breast and ovarian cancer mutation known as BRCA. Testing positive would mean a 90 per cent chance of developing breast cancer and a 40 per cent chance of ovarian cancer.
After testing positive, she underwent a preventative hysterectomy and double mastectomy. Her and her family were determined to have something positive emerge from a bad situation.
The Wajcer family founded the Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Foundation to advance awareness, action and research. From May 10 to 13, the foundation will hold its annual symposium, attracting researchers and experts from around the world.
“The unique part about this meeting is we’re able to bring together all the specialists, plus all the researchers who are involved in the domain,” said HBOC co-founder Harley Eisman.
Over the years, word of mouth has spread among the cancer research community, to the point that this year, the symposium was able to attract the director of the U.S.’s National institute of Health.
Among the topics to be addressed this year is population screening, such as the test Anne Wajcer took all those years ago.
“The frequency of mutations is still much higher in Jewish women than in non-Jewish women, but I think if we’re going to take advantage of this and get the maximum out of this and these developments, it’s important to find as many women as possible with mutations,” said University of Toronto-based researcher Steven Narod.
The conference shows how far cancer research has come, but also how much there is left to be done, said Eisman.
“Integrating genetic knowledge and personalized medicine really into the mainstream and into what we do every day,” he said