Hub City surgeon explains testing for breast cancer gene

Hub City surgeon explains testing for breast cancer gene

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Hattiesburg Clinic Surgeon Dr. William Whitehead's passion for helping breast cancer patients started more than 30 years ago in the Hub City.

"We started the breast center here, what, 31 years ago? So, this has been a big part of my professional life," Whitehead said.

Dr. Whitehead said the technological advances in breast cancer treatment are a blessing, and the latest in preventative care is genetic testing.

"The primary genetic abnormality in this is called the BRCA 1 AND BRCA 2 gene," Whitehead said.

Whitehead said BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes are in the breast tissue. If they mutate, that allows cancer to occur. He said if you want to get tested for the gene, step one is to look to your family history.

"Except if you are diagnosed with breast cancer, if you are diagnosed with breast cancer below the age of 50, you need to be tested," Whitehead said. "Your other relatives, brother and sisters, children male or female all should be tested."

Dr. Whitehead said once a patient qualifies, he offers counseling and options, preparing the patients for positive results, then the test. He said it's a simple blood test.

"We fill out a very accurate family history to identify the high risk patients," Whitehead said. "Then we send you to our lab, where we draw the blood and we send it to Myriad, which is in Salt Lake city."

The results are sent back to Dr. Whitehead, if they are positive he discusses what's next from x-rays, or medicine that could reduce the risk of breast cancer.

"Then if it is positive, we recommend prophylactic mastectomy, and gynecologist recommend prophylactic removal of their ovaries," Whitehead said.

Dr. Whitehead said it's important to leave medical genetic testing to your doctor. He warns going with popular DNA testing websites have left individuals with false genetic results.

"People want to find out what their ancestry is and go and do a DNA test fine, that's up to them, but if you're gonna be making solid, medical recommendations that have dramatic side effects like removing your breast you better make sure it's the right test," Whitehead said.

If you would like to learn more about getting tested for the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes, you can contact Dr. Whitehead's office at Hattiesburg Clinic Surgery department at 601-268-5660.