If you think not having a family history of cancer means you have less chance of getting it, think again.
During four years of genetic testing more than 4,100 people with the Information is Power Initiative at HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, the results revealed less than three percent of those tested received a positive result.
“More than 50 percent of people who received a positive result, which means they have an increased risk of cancer, did not have a strong history of cancer in their family,” said Dr. Sara Cooper, a faculty investigator at HudsonAlpha who leads the Information is Power Initiative and runs a lab that conducts cancer research. “For example, for the vast majority of breast cancer there is no genetic reason that we know about.”
A sedentary lifestyle, being obese and diabetes are indicators for cancer, she added.
The Information is Power Initiative is a collaboration between HudsonAlpha and Kailos Genetics, which is located on the HudsonAlpha campus. The program offers free and reduced cost genetic testing, available by ordering an online kit that includes instructions on how to do a simple DNA sample collection at home, before returning the sample by mail. Kits can be ordered at www.hudsonalpha.org/information-is-power
Cooper said as of Aug. 1, 2019, more than 4,100 people had participated in the initiative and took the Information is Power test.
“Without this initiative, these individuals would likely not have been offered this kind of test at their physician’s office,” she said.
Nancy Archuleta, a retired Huntsville businesswoman, said what HudsonAlpha does with its genetic testing related to cancer is something near and dear to her heart because her daughter is a “breast cancer warrior.”
“Any person in today’s environment is aware of breast cancer,” Archuleta said. “You see it on TV, you see the pink ribbons, you see it on license plates and in all actuality, you probably know someone who has had breast cancer. You can reach out into any room and find somebody who has been touched by it.”
Awareness is one thing, she said.
“When the bull’s-eye is on you, that’s when you really become aware of how little you know about it,” Archuleta shared. “You really become aware of your insignificance almost. It’s so very important to know everything you can know about it and that is why I will tell you what HudsonAlpha is doing is taking you to the next level of awareness.”
Archuleta said her daughter, who lives in Dallas, is fighting her second battle of two unrelated types of breast cancer.
“Most people don’t know that 75% of breast cancer is spontaneous, not genetic,” she said.
Archuleta has gone through paralyzing fear that she had to overcome at times to be an advocate for her daughter as well as take better care of herself.
“We used to make our contributions,” Archuleta said. “But when you personally realize that your dollars make a difference at a place like HudsonAlpha, where they’re really, really taking the issue to heart, then all of a sudden you’re putting your money where your mouth is.”
The Information is Power Initiative has identified more than 70 genetic changes associated with increased risk of cancer among the tested individuals, representing changes in 17 different genes, she said.
Participant ages have ranged from 19-96 and have been from Madison, Jackson, Limestone, Marshall and Morgan counties in North Alabama. Cooper said 51 percent of tests done during the past four years were free. The other 49 percent were offered at a discounted rate.
The discounted and free rates are made possible by a sponsorship from the Russel Hill Cancer Foundation and donations from the community. HudsonAlpha will host the annual Tie the Ribbons fundraiser Nov. 7, which benefits breast and ovarian cancer programs, including Information is Power.