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The Gentlemen Study: Genetic testing for some prostate cancer patients

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Local doctors are trying to reach all men in the state of Washington with metastatic prostate cancer, offering free genetic testing. (KOMO News)

SEATTLE -- Cancer patients go through plenty of testing, poking and prodding. But local researchers hope certain cancer patients will sign up for one more test. They want to look at the genetics of every man with metastatic prostate cancer, meaning it's spread to another part of the body.

It's part of a research project called The Gentlemen Study.

Ron Figgins' grandfather and father both had prostate cancer. But he was surprised by his diagnosis. He initially went to the doctor because of swelling, believed to be a pulled groin muscle.

"By the time they said, your PSA level is 393, it's off the charts, I was shocked," Ron said.

Ron's prostate cancer might have discovered earlier, if he'd known his genetic makeup. His sister battled ovarian cancer, and warned her siblings, she'd inherited a defective gene.

"Before I got out and got tested, I was diagnosed with cancer," Ron said. "Since then, my little brother's gone out and got tested and he also is a carrier of the defective BRCA 2 gene."

So is their other sister. Four siblings, all with the BRCA 2 gene. It's important information for Ron's family and doctors.

Dr. Alicia Zhou is the head of research at Color, a sponsor of the Gentlemen Study.

"As scientists find more links between genetics and disease, I think genetics and genomics will play a very big role in determining how you, one, treat a disease, but also prevent that disease from happening in the first place," she said.

Local doctors are now trying to reach all men in the state of Washington with metastatic prostate cancer, offering free genetic testing.

"There's not enough genetic counselors and services can be limited," said Dr. Heather Cheng, Director of the Prostate Cancer Genetics Clinic at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. "And insurance hasn't necessarily covered those services for all patients. We really want to improve access and remove those barriers for men in the state of Washington."

Through chemotherapy targeting his genetic makeup, Ron's PSA levels have dropped dramatically.

He hopes he hasn't passed the defective gene on to his own children. But if he has, he can also hand down crucial information, leading to possibly earlier cancer detection and cure.

"To know you're not in that category is great," Ron said. "To know that you are, your life still goes on. It just means you've got something you need to pay attention to."

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