UIHC promotes genetic cancer screening


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The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics is working to help local women learn how to wear their "genes."

UIHC held its first ever "Feel Comfortable in Your Jeans" event Wednesday night in hopes of raising cancer awareness and the importance of genetic screening to identify cancer risks.

Many attendees were dressed to impress in blue jeans.

"Because there's such a genetic tie with cancers, we wanted to really talk about that," said Amy Austin, senior marketing specialist for UI Health Care. "We thought, well, what could we do that would be a fun relationship to that and came up with jeans."


The event is the first in a series aimed at increasing awareness of genetic testing for cancers, especially breast and gynecologic cancers, Austin said.

David Bender, a UI clinical associate professor of obstetrics/gynecology, said genetic testing in women with a family history of breast and gynecologic cancers can benefit from screenings both before and after cancer has been detected.

By finding genetic mutations that make women more susceptible early on, they can opt to get frequent screenings or undergo preliminary procedures to prevent cancer.

During the evening, UIHC clinical panelists presented information about cancers of particular concern to women and were available to answer questions.

"I think a lot of people don't know about genetic testing unless a family member has been affected by disease," said Bender, who also served as a panelist. "Young women need to know that there are genetic tests available of increased risk. Women are being diagnosed nearly two decades earlier."

Bender said that 10 percent of ovarian cancers are linked to genetic abnormalities, and there has been ever-growing improvements in UIHC genetic counseling and screening.

"We hope we have a good cross-section of people who were invited by the models, because we know we have a number of them who brought family, friends, and guests," Austin said.

The event models have traveled a much longer journey than a runway, however. Every model at the event is a cancer survivor.

"For me, I've been trying to figure out where to put my energy since my diagnosis," said Suzanne Witte, a licensed master social-work specialist at the UIHC and event model. "Getting the word out about treatment and early detection is a good thing to get involved with."

For many of the models involved — who sported jeans provided by Domby's, Coldwater Creek, Von Maur, and Lyla's Boutique — the event was about gaining information and helping raise awareness.

"I just wanted to help anyone and everyone that I can. I want women to know about genetic testing and the technology available now," said event model Lori Smith. "… I really want them to understand about the genetic testing and how important it is."

Kimberly Leslie, a UI obstetrics/gynecology professor, clarified the merging of "jeans" and "genes" as themes of the event.

"This is sort of a fun event," she said. "We're trying to engage people in knowing a little about women's health through a fashion show and a play on words."

According to event planners, in addition to information on "genes" and fun with "jeans," the event was also intended to foster friendships and support among women.

Witte said that interpersonal relationships helped her through her cancer treatment.

"When I was diagnosed, I had two very close friends who went all through our treatments together," she said. "It was really helpful to have women who were going through it. To have someone that knows what you're going through is very important."

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