By Kim Johnson


MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A Minnesota woman is plotting out a plan to reduce her risk of cancer after learning she tested positive for the BRCA gene.

Heather Mastel got the information through an at-home DNA kit she learned about from a WCCO story.

“It is scary because you don’t know what to do,” she said.

Mastel always feared this day would come.

“She was pretty young, she was 35,” she said.

At a young age, her mom had breast cancer and tested positive for the BRCA gene, a mutation that greatly increases the risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. Mastel knew she should be tested too.

“I was trying to figure out what to do and that is when the WCCO story came on and my husband said hey they are doing something about the BRCA 1 gene,” she said.

The story featured a free, nation-wide clinical trial that makes at-home genetic testing available to women who have a family history. Mastel was one of more than 1,000 women in Minnesota and western Wisconsin who signed up to learn if she carried the cancer gene.

Mastel tested positive.

“It was really emotional and I was really unhappy for a couple days, I needed to chill be alone as I tried to figure out my next steps,” she said.

Unlike other diseases, there are steps women can take to reduce their risk of getting cancer, such as surgery to remove breasts and ovaries. Experts believe, now that more women in Minnesota and western Wisconsin know they have the gene, lives will be saved.

“Mutations have been discovered and women are taking steps to reduce their risk, so that is an incredible outcome,” Kathleen Gavin, of the Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Alliance, said.

Gavin said out of the women tested after the story aired on WCCO, 5 to 6 percent will test positive for the mutation. Because many will opt for surgery, it’s possible cancer rates in our area will drop.

“I would say probably 10 to 15 years, that’s phenomenal, and in some cases maybe earlier,” Gavin said.

Mastel is taking steps to reduce her cancer risk, first eliminating her chances for ovarian cancer.

“This summer at the start of June I am having a hysterectomy,” she said. “I feel like it’s one of those cancers you don’t know if you have it. There is no testing for it. You don’t know if you have it so to me that is a little scarier so I decided to do that first.”

Eventually she will also undergo a double mastectomy.

“I’m red flagged at my clinic now so I have mammograms twice a year until I have a mastectomy,” Mastel said.

So many women from Minnesota and western Wisconsin signed up after our original story, the study had to hire additional genetic counselors. There is still time to see if you qualify, but only a few hundred spots remain.

To see if you qualify, click here.

Kim Johnson

Comments (6)
  1. Dr Puneet Chandna: A Recent guideline from USPTF recommends AGAINST testing fro BRCA.

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