By Sarah Parsons West
Adopted at just six days old, Mary Kay DuPrat was given little insight into her own medical history for nearly 50 years. After decades of proactively approaching health care needs, she was reminded that there’s no escaping genetics.
“You’re not doing yourself any favors by being in denial about health issues,” says DuPrat. No matter the outcome, preventive care is the place to start. She learned early on that being informed about your own health and taking action are essential. “You need to ask the questions and diligently research. You’re doing yourself a disservice if you’re not paying attention to your own health, she says.”
Having undergone 21 surgeries all before the age of 50, DuPrat has battled chronic joint pain and weight-issues, resulting in a bariatric procedure earlier this year. “I have had five surgeries at NMC,” she says. Orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Robert Beattie performed a right hip arthroscopy with micro fracture in June of 2011. “I had a total hip replacement with computer assistance in September 2012, by Dr. Beattie, and in September 2015, he also did a left hip arthroscopy.”
Although a hip replacement for a woman in her forties is unusual, she credits Dr. Beattie with listening to her needs. “My providers have always made me feel like my care is paramount to the success of the surgical process. I’ve always felt that I was well informed and kept in the loop.”
In 2000, DuPrat had her first mammogram due to an issue with a right underarm lymph node. In her early thirties at the time, she began routine breast exams earlier than most women.
“Screening mammograms detect lower stages of malignancy, leading to better patient outcomes,” says Dr. Jennifer Eaton, a Radiologist with NMC’s Diagnostic Imaging Department. “While a breast ultrasound can also be a helpful screening tool for patients with dense tissue, the false positive rate can be high, which can increase a patient’s anxiety,” she says.
Issues with lymph nodes persisted and a lump was detected in DuPrat’s left breast. By 2009, she needed a biopsy on her left breast, yet no sign of cancer was revealed. With her breast health stable in 2013, she was informed that mammograms would be routine every-other year.
Things took an unexpected turn in March 2017, when DuPrat connected with members of her birth family for the first time. “I found out that my birth mother lived with stage IV Breast Cancer for 14 years until it spread to her bones and brain, taking her life.” It was also revealed that her birthmother was one of twelve children, with a twin sister who also suffered from Breast Cancer, as did their mother.
This new information prompted DuPrat to resume annual exams, with a 3-D mammogram conducted this September. “I’ve always had to leave the family history portion of medical forms blank,” DuPrat says. “This was the first time I could say, yes I’ve had family members who have died from this.”
“A 3-D mammogram can increase cancer detection rates, particularly for invasive cancers,” says Dr. Eaton, “which helps detect the true positives of Breast Cancer.”
Furthermore, DuPrat opted for genetic blood testing conducted at NMC, to identify any abnormal BRCA1 and BRCA2 (BReast CAncer 1 and 2) genes. Dr. Eaton said the Myriad Biomarker genetic testing can be used for patients with a family history of breast cancer or family history of genetic mutations. “Genetic testing is also recommended for women with dense breast tissue or those with a history of atypical breast cells,” she says.
“The genetic testing objectives were explained clearly; and an informational video answered any questions I might have had,” says DuPrat.
Based upon family history, the biomarker assessment tool indicates DuPrat’s lifetime risk to develop Breast Cancer is 38.5%. Yet, to her relief, blood results indicate that she is not a carrier of mutated Breast Cancer genes – a positive insight for her adult daughters, Cassandra and Morgan – who share the same line of maternal inheritance.
“Since my girls are so far away, I can’t be nagging at them to follow-up with their own health exams,” she says. With one daughter in Alaska and the other in Hawaii, DuPrat feels the recent revelations of genetics, both through testing and familial connectivity, will empower her family to make informed decisions to stay healthy for generations to come.
“If you don’t have anyone in your life that can help you through whatever you’re facing, reach out to the support staff at the hospital,” she says. “They’re fantastic at what they do!” Having such a supportive husband, family, friends and medical resources at NMC, DuPrat feels blessed.
“I love my life,” she says. “I want to live for a long time – I have a lot to live for!”
KNOW YOUR BREAST HEALTH SCREENING OPTIONS
While some women are reluctant to schedule a breast screening, the benefits of early detection are paramount. NMC offers many options, matching the needs of each patient:
Mammogram 2D and 3D
“Screening mammograms detect lower stages of malignancy, leading to better patient outcomes,” says Dr. Jennifer Eaton, a Radiologist with NMC’s Diagnostic Imaging Department.
“A 3-D mammogram increases cancer detection rates, by detecting true positives of Breast Cancer, particularly for invasive cancers,” says Dr. Eaton. These benefits are particularly seen in younger women and patients with dense breast tissue.
MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging)
An MRI is a good tool to use in conjunction with a mammogram in certain situations, says Dr. Eaton, especially for those patients with high risk for breast cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends a breast MRI for women with a 20% or greater lifetime risk.
While a breast Ultrasound can also be a helpful screening tool for patients with dense tissue, the false positive rate can be high, which can increase a patient’s anxiety.
Genetic Biomarker (blood testing)
The Myriad Biomarker genetic testing can be a beneficial tool to identify any abnormal BRCA1 and BRCA2 (BReast CAncer 1 and 2) genes. This type of genetic testing is suggested for patients with a family history of Breast Cancer or genetic mutations, Dr. Eaton says. She also recommends genetic testing for women with dense breast tissue or those with a history of atypical breast cells.