KERNERSVILLE, N.C. (WGHP) — Knowledge is power.

Sabrina Williams, of Kernersville, has always felt that’s true. But now she believes it may have saved her life. At the very least, it helped her avoid a battle against breast cancer. 

Cancer has been an unfortunate part of Williams’ life for decades: Her aunts, mother and even her children have battled varying forms of it. But it wasn’t until her mom lost her battle against uterine, fallopian and ovarian cancer in August 2021 that she decided to do something about it. 

“We had always discussed it because we knew we had so much cancer in our family,” Williams said. “But when it hit with her, that’s when it really started the ball rolling for me to get genetic testing.”

For Williams, that was a simple blood test through her doctor’s office that was targeted toward those who have a family history or personal history of cancer. 

According to Karen Powell, a licensed certified genetic counselor at Cone Health Cancer Center, the genetic testing evaluates certain genes we all carry that protect us from cancer. 

“If there is a genetic change or something that we call a mutation in one of those genes, that makes that gene either not work or maybe just works inefficiently,” Powell said. “So you lose that protection, and you’re placed at higher risk for cancer.

Genetic counselors at Cone Health’s Cancer Center saw about 19 percent more patients last year compared to the year before. According to Powell, new guidelines from the National Comprehensive Cancer Network mean more people are eligible for genetic testing covered by insurance.

“If we identify somebody who has a genetic mutation before they get cancer, we can put medical management changes into place that can either help identify a cancer early when it’s more treatable, or we can possibly prevent a cancer from happening,” Powell said. “I do consider that life-changing and potentially life-saving.”

And Williams agrees. Her genetic testing revealed she had two gene mutations: BRCA 2 and PALB2

“BRCA2 is bad enough,” Williams said. “But then when you start adding other mutations onto it, it just increases your chances for cancer.”

She opted for a full hysterectomy followed by a double mastectomy. To her surprise, pathology revealed she had stage zero breast cancer, which means the disease hadn’t yet spread.

“The surgical oncologist told me, ‘Just a little bit longer, and we’d been having a different conversation,'” Williams said. 

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It’s a conversation she’s thankful she won’t be forced to have.

“You never know when you start that battle if you’re going to win that battle,” Williams said. “Nobody wants to go through that. I’m just so unbelievably thankful.”

Individuals who have a lot of cancer in their family, multiple generations of cancer, multiple cancers in one family member or family members diagnosed with cancer at a young age should talk with their doctor about genetic testing and counseling.