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Fight cancer through early screening, genetic testing

She was six years old when her mother died of breast cancer. Since her grandmother had also died of the same ailment, Nikoy de Guzman, President of ICanServe Foundation remembered being told by her mother’s surgeon that she had a high risk of getting breast cancer.

“I recall my mother’s surgeon telling me that when I reach the age of 18, I should go to her to have a check-up,” de Guzman related. “And I did that and it was just a physical breast exam and lo and behold, I was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 28.”

By that time, she already had a ten-month-old son. Throughout her years of check-ups, her oncologist was already telling her son that he, too, needed to have himself checked because he was a high risk as there were also cancer cases on the side of her son’s father. De Guzman also pointed out that her brother had recently died of cancer in the small intestine, hence her son’s high risk status.

Mammogram for her son

When she asked her oncologist what would be done to her son, she was told that he would need to undergo a mammogram. While de Guzman agreed to the procedure, she found it rather awkward.

“I found it awkward because I think that if it is something that is in your blood already, you can do more. You can do more if you know,” de Guzman said. “So I think this is an urgent thing and if I survive this, I would like share my result with my family members because I have four nieces and one of them is just like me with many lumps.”

The “urgent thing” that de Guzman was referring to was the genetic test BRCA 1 and 2.

According to the National Cancer institute, BRCA means breast cancer and BRCA 1 and 2 are human genes that produce tumor suppressor proteins. These proteins help repair damaged DNA and, therefore, play a role in ensuring the stability of each cell’s genetic material.

When either of these genes is mutated, or altered, such that its protein product is not made or does not function correctly, DNA damage may not be repaired properly. As a result, cells are more likely to develop additional genetic alterations that can lead to cancer.

Elevated BRCA 1

In 2013, actress Angelina Jolie underwent genetic screening and learned that she had a significantly elevated risk of developing breast cancer due to the mutation of the BRCA 1 gene. Due to this, she decided to undergo prophylactic double mastectomy to prevent the cancer from happening.

BRCA 1 and BRCA gene testing are just two of the services being offered by Pascific Laboratories, a privately funded organization founded to improve access to precision health care in the Asia-Pacific region. It was incorporated in Singapore in 2018 and opened its laboratory during the last week of October 2019.

The organization is anchored on more than 25 years of international domain expertise in precision healthcare that is based and focused on Asia Pacific. Their service offerings include Clinical Services (Molecular Diagnostics), Contract Research (Biomarkers), Innovation (Digital Pathology) and Microbiome Health.

Precision health

Pascific Laboratories CEO Richie Soong defined precision health care as “the provision of health care according to an individual’s specific biological make-up. Meaning providing the right treatment to the right individual.”

“This is opposed to the older practices of providing the same treatment to all individuals regardless of biological make up,” Soong explained. “Precision health care has been credited to providing increased survival and quality of life.”

In addition to providing molecular tests like BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 which are tests that are done at the sub-microscopic level of DNA, RNA and proteins, Pascific also provide liquid biopsy tests, “tests that can assess the best cancer treatment options from a blood sample instead of an invasive tissue sample.”

“The main differentiator for Pascific Laboratories are our founders—we are Asian doctors and scientists who are amongst the leaders in molecular testing,” he said. “So when you get tests from Pascific, you know you are getting the best tests at the best prices with the best support and an understanding of Asia.”

Affordable best testing

Soong added that Pascific is “also on a mission to make the best testing affordable to as many people as we can in Asia—and to do that, we need a critical mass.”

“We will do everything we can to make it easy for patients to have access to the best tests in the world. You and your doctor can call us to get advice on the best test for your health status and finances,” Soong explained.

They are also willing to send their test kits to anywhere in the Philippines and even home visits in the Metro Manila area.

“When the results are ready, an easy to understand report is provided for you and your doctor to plan your precision healthcare. And as is our signature, the most important part is the international knowledge provided by the local staff available,” Soong said.

“For us, it is not just the high quality test but that you and your doctor are fully supported, understand and get the most out of the complex results,” he added.

Early detection

De Guzman said the genetic and molecular tests are all in line with ICanServe’s motto of “Early Detection is Your Best Protection.” These tests, however, were unheard of when she and the other members of ICanServe were first diagnosed for breast cancer.

“When it comes to these kinds of tests, I think it is more of an economics issue. It is not that popular. Here it is always about the surgery and then the chemotherapy afterwards, radiation and the medicines,” she said.

De Guzman said that these tests had been offered to them many years ago but “it was six figures when it was offered to us.” When Soong offered her the tests, De Guzman said she was elated because she would finally know if she was prone to other types of cancer.

“If it goes well with me, I am sure they will want to do it. I have not met anyone in ICanServe who has undergone this kind of testing. It is unchartered territory for cancer survivors in the Philippines. It is not discussed as much,” she said.

Soong recommended that those who have a very high risk of getting cancer should get the test at the earliest possible time.

“If you have the genes that cause cancer, you have peace of mind because you know what you have to do,” Soong said. “So it is important to know who has it and who does not have it and it does change the way you think and you will have peace of mind.”

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