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School of Medicine Columbia

Alumna carries mother’s breast cancer battle through her career

Posted Oct. 20, 2020 | By Margaret Gregory,

Shandrea Foster knows what it means to battle the ravages of breast cancer. When Foster was just a young girl, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 26.

“That certainly colors your perspective when you watch someone you love going through something so traumatic at such a young age,” she says. Thankfully, her mother is now a twenty-year survivor.

As her mother progressed through treatment, Foster’s interest in following a science-focused career continued to grow. She earned her bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in psychology with leadership distinction in research from the University of South Carolina College of Arts and Sciences in 2015.

During her undergraduate studies, Foster’s focus on breast cancer became a central part of her studies. She conducted research projects centered around breast cancer and allelic differences among African Americans. Allelic variation describes the presence or number of different allele forms at a particular locus or place on a chromosome. These variations can serve as an indicator of genetic variations that may cause higher incidences of breast cancer.

Her mother’s disease also pushed her toward an interest in genetic counseling.

“In 2014 my mother had seen a genetic counselor. That was about the same time that I was beginning to consider my career path,” she says. “I began learning more about what genetic counselors do, and I applied to the program.”

Foster completed her Masters in Genetic Counseling from the UofSC School of Medicine Columbia in 2018.

Foster now provides genetic counseling services to breast cancer patients at University Health Care System in Augusta, Georgia, as well as serving as a preceptor to students from the UofSC School of Medicine’s genetic counseling program. She now has the opportunity to work directly with patients, providing education to them about what they can expect as they move through their treatment and after treatment, while also helping to train the next generation of genetic counselors.

“Genetic testing can give us great insight into what to expect in the future for a patient, and it tells us about the present for their surgical decisions and possible medications,” she says. “We work with them to talk about how to proceed in the present and what they might face in the future.”

Foster recommends that everyone should ask their family members about their medical history.

“The one thing I hear patients say is that they did not know they had a family member who had cancer,” she says. “Being educated on your family history is important, but too often, family members don’t choose to share that kind of information.”

Foster also focuses on educating patients on awareness of signs and symptoms of breast cancer. “You have to listen to your body,” she says. “Be aware of what age you should begin screenings, and if you are of a certain ethnicity or have a family history, you may need to begin screenings even earlier. The earlier you catch it, you have more options for treatment.”

Because of her family history, Foster is on track to begin high-risk screenings and she is encouraging her siblings, even her brother, to start their screenings at an early age as well.

“Genetics is always changing and growing,” she adds. “My mom may even want to revisit to see what testing is available in the future to avoid or reduce the risk of a second cancer.”

To learn more about breast cancer screening, visit the guidelines provided by the American Cancer Society.

Faculty from the UofSC genetic counseling program also provide clinical services, including counseling for individuals with a personal or family history of cancer, through Prisma Health. To learn more about the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Masters of Genetic Counseling program, click here.

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