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Fox Chase Cancer Center Risk Assessment Program Celebrates 20 Years of Patient Empowerment through Research and Education

Anniversary website features family stories in video

This November, Fox Chase Cancer Center celebrates this advance through the 20th Anniversary of its Risk Assessment Program. Above: The November 13, 2011 event at WHYY studios.

Philadelphia (November 10, 2011) – Every time a patient knows that he or she carries a gene mutation and takes informed action to prevent cancer based on that knowledge, they have been empowered. This November, Fox Chase Cancer Center celebrates this advance through the 20th Anniversary of its Risk Assessment Program.  Founded in 1991 by Mary Daly, MD, PhD, Chair of the Department of Clinical Genetics at Fox Chase, the Risk Assessment Program was established to explore the interaction of genetic and environmental factors in cancer risk and to develop preventative approaches. 

The first of its kind in the region and one of the first in the nation, the program formerly known as the Margaret Dyson Family Risk Assessment Program was founded to study families with a history of breast and ovarian cancers, and has expanded to include research and counsel for families with prostate, gastrointestinal, and lung cancers, as well as melanoma. 

Over the past 20 years, Fox Chase’s Risk Assessment Program has helped more than 13,000 individuals map their family history of cancer and understand their genetic risk.  Researchers have examined genes from nearly 2,000 families, and each year the program’s staff provides some 2,000 hours of counseling to participants. Once counselors discover an individual’s genetic status, they provide suggestions for screening based on that status.  This proactive approach helps individuals catch cancer in its earliest and most treatable stages. Risk Assessment Program members are also able to take part in research studies and receive ongoing education about their risk.   

“We are extremely proud of how far we’ve come in the past 20 years,” says Dr. Daly. “We have seen a number of milestones during this period, from the discovery of the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes to new screening methods such as breast MRI. As genetic mapping advances, we expect to build upon our current knowledge and offer patients an even greater understanding of their risk and increased prevention and treatment options.” 

The Risk Assessment Program is one of several innovative programs in the movement toward personalized medicine at Fox Chase.  In February 2008, the Center launched the Keystone Programs for Collaborative Discovery, a suite of innovative team-based cancer research initiatives seeking to accelerate the pace of medical progress against cancer.  In May 2009, Fox Chase also launched the Institute for Personalized Medicine to match emerging targeted drug therapies to the unique genetic profiles of individual patient tumors on a much larger scale than previously possible.

And in 2012, Fox Chase expects to open its Cancer Genome Institute, providing genomic sequencing technology to analyze each patient’s tumor genome. The results can then provide oncologists with information that can be used to guide treatment or steer the patient to appropriate drug trials.

“The scientific community has only begun to understand the genetic and familial contributions to cancer risk. Initiatives such as the Risk Assessment Program allow scientists to continue working toward a better way to detect and prevent the disease, based on specific genetic markers,” says Michael V Seiden, MD, PhD, president and CEO of Fox Chase Cancer Center. “Equally as important, the program enables families to take an active role in understanding and sharing knowledge with each other.”  

In celebration of the Risk Assessment Program’s 20th Anniversary, several families have created documentary videos with the assistance of the Education Department at WHYY.  These videos, illustrating the impact of cancer on their families and the role of Fox Chase’s program in their lives, are available for viewing on the Risk Assessment Program 20th Anniversary page:

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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