Genetic testing opens up new treatment options for local cancer patient

(WJLA) - Jenn Morey, 37, is a dedicated yogi.

She uses yoga it to stay fit, but also to gauge how she feels, one year after being diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer.

"You're fighting for your life," Morey says of her journey. "You're doing everything you can to stay alive and as healthy as possible."

Morey has had a particularly difficult time with side effects from her treatment.

"I was having severe abdominal pain and ended up in ER," she recalls.

That's why Dr. Michael Pishvaian at Medstar Georgetown University Hospital decided to send a biopsy of her tumor for advanced genetic testing.

"When we're looking for these genes, we're not necessarily looking for something well-known—we're looking for something not common in their cancer," Dr. Pishvaian explains. "That's what I would call 'needle in the haystack.'"

The tests found that Morey is HER2-positive, which is very common in breast cancer patients, but quite rare in colon cancer, only affecting 2 to 3 percent of patients.

"I was very excited when I saw her results, because I knew right away we'd be able to have additional treatment options for her," said Dr. Pishvaian.

The discovery opened the door for Dr. Pishvaian to treat Morey with breast cancer drugs, which are more plentiful.

After several cycles on a drug called Herceptin, a CT scan has found that Morey's tumors are stable.

Dr. Pishvaian says that's a good step and hopes, over time, her tumors might even shrink.

Morey says her quality of life is improving as well, and if that continues to be the case, she'd really like to return to work.

"You're trying to have quality of life and do things you enjoy doing, because you don't know how much time you have left," she said.

The biggest barriers for genetic testing include cost, the length of time to get results, and difficulty in getting biopsy samples.

And while it's being used now in many types of cancers, it is not used when a patients has what's considered to be a curable cancer.