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Genetic testing gives families peace of mind

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ST. LOUIS – You have heard it before from medical professionals: early detection is key. Patients are driving hundreds of miles for a type of genetic testing at St. Louis University Cancer Center that is saving lives.

"This is one of the true places where we can help a family or individual prevent cancer," said clinical nurse specialist Suzanne Mahon.

Mahon has been doing this for decades.

"You don't see instant results but it's life-changing for families over time," she said.

She is the only nurse in Missouri certified in genetics and is an expert in interpretation, management, and test results.

"Prevention is always the goal but if you can't prevent it, you want the earliest possible detection. That makes a big difference for families," Mahon said.

The hereditary cancer screening program identifies individuals and families at risk. Mahon helps to educate and counsel those families with known hereditary risks for developing cancer.

It starts with your family history; then Mahon creates a family tree. The family tree makes it easier to see a hereditary link in your family.

"Each cancer is represented by a different color. When we look at that pattern, it helps us understand if there's hereditary risk," Mahon said.

There are two ways to do the test: a mouth swab or blood sample. It takes about a minute to collect the sample and three weeks to get the results back.

"It might clarify your risk, it might help you understand that you're at a high risk for something, maybe risk-reducing surgery is better for you, maybe you need a yearly colonoscopy, things like that," Mahon said.

Giving you peace of mind if you test negative or the ability to make good choices if positive.

"It's so rewarding, we can change what happens for these families if you can prevent or delay a cancer, that's an amazing thing," said Mahon.

For more information or to make an appointment with Mahon call 314-577-8854.

For more information about research, prevention and care, click here ( to go to the St. Louis Men's Group Against Cancer, an organization that brings the cancer community together.

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