SPRINGDALE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Hundreds in Northwest Arkansas have learned that they are genetically predisposed to certain cancers through Genetic Counseling at Highlands Oncology.

“Over the last five years [genetic counselors] have screened more than 2,000 patients and they found more than 200 families that have these inherited cancer syndromes,” said Oncologist Dr. Eric Shaefer.

Genetic counselors are trained in medical genetics and counseling to help patients learn whether they have inherited diseases and how these conditions could affect them and their families, according to Highlands Oncology.

“If you have certain breast cancer syndromes, instead of needing a mammogram every year, you might need a mammogram early or you might need something called an MRI,” Dr. Shaefer said.

Much of the time oncologists will refer a patient to see a genetic counselor to discuss their family history and have their DNA tested. It was through this testing that Donna Daniel, of Northwest Arkansas, found out she has a PTEN gene mutation.

“This gene mutation is about one in every 200 to 250,000 people… Those are your genes that really help fight cancer and normally the average person has two. I’m missing half,” she said.

According to Daniel, this mutation puts her at higher risk for being diagnosed with different cancers, which has proven true for the multi-cancer survivor.

“I started out with a bilateral mastectomy in 2020 and reconstruct there. I’ve had skin cancers, multiple,” Daniel said.

Finding Daniel’s diagnoses early, Dr. Shaefer said was critical to her treatment.

“It’s really key to find these genes because we know that earlier we can find cancers. The more likely they are to be cured,” he said.

The Genetic Counseling at Highlands Oncology was made possible in part by a six-figure grant from The Cancer Challenge.

Since 1993, the nonprofit has invested in cancer care programs and services in Northwest Arkansas to ensure no one has to leave the region to receive world-class cancer care.

To raise money for its mission, the “1 Day, 1 Night, 1 Region, 1 Fight” Cancer Challenge Telethon is underway through 11 p.m. Tuesday, November 15.

To donate call all 479-273-3172 or text “CANCERNWA” to 44321.