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Navigating Inherited Cancer Risk

Juana Cobián and Patient Navigator Guadalupe Tovar
Juana Cobián, left, and Patient Navigator Guadalupe Tovar

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We share a lot of traits with our family members—from eye color to tongue rolling, height to shoe size. Of course, some inherited factors are less visible and more consequential, such as genes that increase the risk of certain cancers.

After their sister was diagnosed with breast cancer, Juana Cobián and her brother decided to get genetic testing. Genetic testing provides a way for many to understand their risk for developing cancer.

Originally from Mexico and speaking English as a second language, Juana reached out to Spanish-speaking patient navigators at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI).

"My brother’s results were negative, but mine were positive," Juana says about finding she had the BRCA1 cancer gene. "From then on, I was advised to have a mammogram every six months to be in control."


I never imagined that I would make it through this disease. Many Hispanic people think that it won’t happen to them and you never imagine that it will, but you can’t take it lightly and you have to do something about it.

Juana Cobián 
Sister and Mother

Only months after her genetic test, 36-year-old Juana found a small mass in her breast. "I came here with the patient navigator. I had a biopsy and it showed that I had cancer," she says. "They were by my side. They hugged me, held me. They raised my self-esteem and I even think of them as my therapists sometimes," Juana says of her relationship with the patient navigators.

"I never imagined that I would have cancer. I knew what the disease was, but I never imagined it was in my family. I was afraid of dying and leaving my daughters," Juana expresses.

With the help of patient navigators and the opportunity Juana had to get genetic testing, she found her cancer early. Now, she shares the importance of genetic testing and proactive cancer screening when you are at increased risk.

Anna Martinez and Guadalupe Tovar standing next to bookshelf
HCI Patient Navigators, left to right: Anna Martinez and Guadalupe Tovar (Not pictured: Liliana Mulato)
HCI Patient Navigators, left to right: Anna Martinez and Guadalupe Tovar (Not pictured: Liliana Mulato)

"I’ve explained to my older daughter that she needs to have genetic testing done when she turns 18. It will be important that my daughters learn to take care of themselves, what treatments to seek out, and precautions they need to take."

About genetic testing, Juana says, "It doesn’t mean that you’ll have cancer someday. You don’t have to be afraid or live in fear. The test is simply telling you what steps you should take to take care of yourself. If everything is found in time, your life can be saved."

Learn more about family history of cancer.

Cancer touches all of us.