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Fox Chase Cancer Center Researchers Developing "Virtual" Genetic Counseling Tool

PHILADELPHIA (May 3, 2004) -- Researchers at Fox Chase Cancer Center are developing a "virtual" genetics counseling tool to allow high-quality cancer counseling and education for family members who live far apart. Physician researchers Neal J. Meropol, MD, and Mary B. Daly, MD, PhD are developing this internet-based tool with funding from Pennsylvania's portion of the "tobacco money" obtained from the Master Settlement Agreement of 1998.

Participants in the virtual genetic counseling program must enroll in a cancer risk assessment programs offered by Fox Chase Cancer Center. Fox Chase offers family risk assessment programs for healthy people at risk of developing colorectal, breast or ovarian cancer because of their family history of disease or other factors.

Hereditary forms of colorectal, breast, and ovarian cancers are caused by abnormal genes that are passed from generation to generation. The decision of whether to pursue genetic testing requires a careful risk assessment, with education and counseling of potentially affected family members, ideally in a group setting.

"Unfortunately, families are frequently geographically dispersed, and those living outside of urban centers typically don't have access to appropriate professional expertise in cancer genetics," says Meropol, director of the Gastrointestinal Tumor Risk Assessment Program and co-investigator of the project.

"The purpose of this project is to improve access to high-quality cancer risk-assessment and genetic counseling by using available web-based technology," explains Meropol. "We'll do that by developing an internet-based computer application that allows live video and audio interaction between multiple family members at various locations with a genetic counselor at Fox Chase Cancer Center. This removes a huge barrier to counseling for people from various geographic locations."

Many factors influence an individual's risk of developing cancer. These include both modifiable (e.g. smoking, exercise, diet, screening compliance) and non-modifiable (e.g. genetic predisposition) factors.

"Cancer risk assessment can reduce the suffering and death associated with cancer by matching health behaviors to the personal level of risk, including promotion of appropriate screening programs. In some cases, cancer predisposition is inherited, and may therefore be transmitted from generation to generation. Identifying individuals with a genetic susceptibility can allow cancer prevention strategies to be implemented," concludes Mary B. Daly, MD, PhD, director of the Margaret Dyson Family Risk Assessment Program and co-investigator of the project.

To find out more about Fox Chase Cancer Center's family risk assessment programs, please call 1-888-FOX CHASE.

Fox Chase Cancer Center, part of the Temple University Health System, is one of the leading cancer research and treatment centers in the United States. Founded in 1904 in Philadelphia as one of the nation’s first cancer hospitals, Fox Chase was also among the first institutions to be designated a National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center in 1974. Fox Chase researchers have won the highest awards in their fields, including two Nobel Prizes. Fox Chase physicians are also routinely recognized in national rankings, and the Center’s nursing program has received the Magnet recognition for excellence four consecutive times. Today, Fox Chase conducts a broad array of nationally competitive basic, translational, and clinical research, with special programs in cancer prevention, detection, survivorship, and community outreach.  For more information, call 1-888-FOX CHASE or (1-888-369-2427).

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