Movie aims to ‘decode' strides in breast cancer research, treatment

April 30, 2014

Awareness of your body, your genetics and what science can do to predict and treat certain cancers. That's what organizers of an upcoming movie screening are hoping to improve.

"Decoding Annie Parker," a new film about the intertwining stories of geneticist Mary Claire King, who discovered a genetic link to certain types of breast and ovarian cancers, and Annie Parker, a three-time cancer survivor, will be shown at 7:30 p.m. May 5, at Showplace Terre Haute 12.

The event is co-sponsored by the Center for Genomic Advocacy at Indiana State University, the Wabash Valley affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure and the breast cancer survivors' group P.I.N.K.

While supplies last, free tickets are available for breast cancer survivors at Susan G. Komen's office in The Meadows (suite 19, 812-917-5047).

The film, starring Helen Hunt, Aaron Paul and Samantha Morton, provides recent history about breast cancer research and underscores the need for the public's understanding of scientific strides, say organizers.

"Cancer is caused by a genetic mutation that causes the uncontrolled division of your own cells. Because every person is genetically different, every cancer case is genetically different, and so a treatment for one person might not work so well for another person," said Elaina Tuttle, professor of biology at Indiana State and co-founder of the Center for Genomic Advocacy.

"Genetics helps us understand who is likely to get cancer, as well as how to treat it once someone is diagnosed. As we understand more about genomics, we will be able to develop ‘personalized' treatments that will be more effective, because they will be tailored to an individual's needs," she added.

Understanding the genetic underpinnings of these diseases is valuable for not only post-diagnosis, but also prevention.

"If you know you have a genetic predisposition and change your behavior, might be able to prevent getting the disease," said Rusty Gonser, associate professor of biology and director of the Center for Genomic Advocacy.

With early detection, survival rates are now 98 percent, said Gwen Hicks of Susan G. Komen.

"Education is the key to this. It's something that every woman should have a discussion about with their physician. What is right for you is not right for me," Hicks said. "We have a survival rate now that wasn't possible 10 years ago."

Access to care is exceedingly expensive - up to $300,000 to treat stage one or two breast cancer, with proportionate increases for more advanced stages - and if a patient doesn't have insurance or a support system to help with transportation to and from doctors' visits, that further limits access, Hicks said.

If a woman has no family history of breast cancer, yearly mammograms should start at age 40, Hicks said. "Be aware of your body and be proactive. It's better to be safe than sorry," she said.

With the wealth of advancements genomics provides comes equally important ethical conversations - answering questions of privacy and what limits should be placed on the use of a person's genetic code.

"We hope people will begin to understand that we need to embrace the science, because that is the key to a cure. However, people need to also understand that with the power of genomics comes great ethical and legal responsibilities to protect one's privacy," Tuttle said. "Genomics holds great potential but as with all technology, we must examine its uses through the lens of ethics."

The same way cancer isn't treated by just one doctor any more - it's now a team of doctors - Indiana State has brought together a team to start a dialogue in the community.

"(The event) shows how the university can work together with outside groups to educate the community about what resources are out there, so they can be more proactive in their healthcare," said Gonser. "It's kind of like that cliché two heads are better than one."

"Genomic advocacy uses an interdisciplinary approach to facilitate and promote the responsible use of genomics. The film, ‘Decoding Annie Parker,' embodies the spirit of genomic advocacy," Tuttle added.

Komen and P.I.N.K. will be distributing information before the movie, and attendees can also register for door prizes.

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Photo: http://www.smugmug.com/photos/i-jj893qS/0/X2/i-jj893qS-X2.jpg - Movie poster for "Decoding Annie Parker," starring Helen Hunt, Aaron Paul and Samantha Morton, is seen.

Contact: Rusty Gonser, associate professor of biology and director of the Center for Genomic Advocacy at Indiana State University, 812-237-2395 or Rusty.Gonser@indstate.edu

Gwen Hicks, affiliate development for Wabash Valley Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, 812-241-9730 or wvracecure@aol.com

Writer: Libby Roerig, media relations assistant director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or libby.roerig@indstate.edu