Published on June 08, 2022

High Risk Clinic and Genetic Testing

By Physician Assistant Windy Christy
Windy Christy, PAWindy Christy, PA

The ability to downstage cancer at diagnosis through identifying patients who are at high risk is extremely important.  Approximately 5 to 10 percent of all cancers are thought to be caused by mutations in genes associated with hereditary cancer syndromes. 

As patients learn more about genetic testing during family history intake, and the conditions a patient may carry and pass on to their children, they may have questions and concerns about certain cancers that may run in their families. 

In 2017, Physician Assistant Catherine Gaines and I enrolled in the six-month City of Hope Intensive Course in Cancer Risk Assessment.  This effort was to meet the need for cancer risk assessment and genetic testing in our local community, allowing us to see patients in the county and avoid their need to travel for this service. Since completion of that course, we have been able to meet the need for genetic testing.  Through that process, a new need was revealed where high-risk patients were identified and required a provider to monitor their risks and changes in family history annually.  We now offer this service at UNC Health Southeastern’s Gibson Cancer Center.

Our culture is trained to think of cancer patients in 3 stages: 1. newly diagnosed, 2. in treatment, and 3. survivors. But advances in genetic testing and proactive care have led to a 4th category perspective: cancer previvors.  A cancer previvor is a person who takes action to reduce or eliminate a genetic cancer before the cancer develops or is detected in his or her body. In other words, by being proactive, the patient can survive a genetic predisposition to cancer.  We are also able to identify patients who are at high risk due to their family and personal history.  This knowledge allows for additional individualized screening and prevention discussion with the patient.

I felt it important to continue seeking additional training in this area of medicine as the field of genetics is evolving rapidly.  The Cancer Genetic Risk Assessment certification provides assurance that the healthcare professional possesses the knowledge, skills and competency to provide cancer risk assessment and genetics services to patients and families; promote patient safety by enhancing provider quality; recognize professionals who advance beyond basic knowledge in a specialty field,  promote collaborative practice and referral to genetics professionals or other qualified healthcare professionals to assure the best possible outcome and care for patients and their families.

The High-Risk Screening and Genetic Testing Clinic provides cancer screening, chemoprevention, and genetic risk evaluation for individuals at increased risk of certain cancers.

We work together with genetic counselors and providers such as gastroenterology, general surgery, surgical oncology and gynecology to provide this education, hereditary cancer risk assessment, genetic counseling and testing, individualized cancer screening and prevention programs to people who are concerned about their personal and family history of various cancers. 

Gibson Cancer Center Physician Assistant Windy Christy recently earned Cancer Genetic Risk Assessment Certification, which has been developed by an interdisciplinary team of subject matter experts through the National Consortium of Breast Centers (NCBC).  This certification shows patients that Christy is a professional whose skills have been validated through a third party through advanced education and testing in Breast Cancer Genetic Risk Assessment. To learn more about genetic risk assessment services available through Gibson Cancer Center, call (910) 671-5730.