Genetic testing can help predict an individual’s cancer risk by looking at inherited gene mutations. These results can provide potentially life-saving information for patients who test positive for known mutations and who then can undergo preventative screenings and treatments for cancer.
“When I got my diagnosis, I was trying to find first-person narratives about BRCA on the internet,” says Erika Stallings, a carrier of the BRCA2 mutation and breast cancer previvor. “And I found some, but there weren’t that many written by women of color. I knew from a statistical standpoint I could not be the only black person who’s ever had BRCA.”Read More
Stallings underwent a double mastectomy at NYU Langone Health’s Perlmutter Cancer Center as a preventative measure. The BRCA2 mutation increases the risk of women getting breast cancer to 45-65% before the age of 70, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. After her treatment, Stallings took the initiative to be an advocate for genetic testing for women of color.
She reflects on her own experiences: “I always tell people I feel like I had the best experience someone going through this could. I had a white-collar job that was flexible; I had a really great treatment team at NYU; I had money. I experienced this thing as a very privileged person.”
However, not every patient has access to or even knows about genetic testing as a preventative measure against breast cancer. Black women on average have 16 times lower referral rates to get genetic testing even if they fit all of the criteria under the federal guidelines, according to Stallings.
As a result, Stallings’ work ties closely with her personal experiences and raises awareness about breast cancer family history by educating minority communities.
“I have tried to build a relationship with oncologists and genetic counselors at NYU to do events where we go out into the African American community or we try to find African American women and start a conversation,” she says. “It sort of just starts a dialogue in that community. You get people thinking about, oh, I have a mom who had cancer and a grandmother and an aunt… Maybe I am someone who should get referred to genetic counseling.”