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Bronxville Genetic Counselor Calculates Cancer Risk

If your mother had breast cancer does that mean you will develop it, too? Donna Russo, a board certified genetic counselor at Lawrence Hospital Center , works with her patients to get this type of question answered.

It’s all part of a brand-new Cancer Genetics Program at Lawrence Hospital Center, introduced by Russo just this year after first unveiling it at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital in 1995. She said she brought the program to Westchester because she understands residents are looking for top-notch quality at the local level.

“If people have to travel into the city, it’s hard to come more than once,” she said. "With Lawrence Hospital Center, the visit is local and integrated into the patient's day, rather than having to make such a trip."

To determine a patient’s risk for breast or ovarian cancer, the Hastings resident puts together an assessment, compiling family history and lifestyle information to educate her on her likelihood of developing the disease.  When they are creating a three-generational family tree, Russo reminds patients not to discount their father’s side—men can test positive for breast cancer, too.

The goal, she said, is to “create an awareness, to educate people and empower them with the information to take care of their health.”

If a patient is found to be at an increased risk, she can opt to be genetically tested or later referred to a breast specialist who will conduct routine examinations. By the age of 30, Russo might encourage the patient to get an MRI and base-line screening.

Cancer prevention isn’t all about genetic testing, though. Russo said a lot of it has to do with lifestyle choices, so keeping a healthy weight and diet, limiting alcohol consumption and increasing intake of herbs might reduce the risk of breast cancer.

Russo is also a massage therapist who is studying herbalism, which she said has given her insight on caring for her patients.

“It’s very individual, and there are a lot of different things to consider but I try to focus on the whole person and promote wellness,” she said.

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