Bethan Powell, MD
Women’s Hereditary Cancer Centers
“Being diagnosed with a genetic mutation that increases cancer risk is not news any woman wants to hear. But this knowledge is power, because it means you can change your destiny.”
Dr. Powell’s interest in oncogenetics was sparked by a historic case in her own practice. “Three sisters came to see me in the early 1990s with a strange family history—three generations of an incredibly rare fallopian tube cancer,” Dr. Powell says. “What we ultimately discovered was one of the first identified cases of the BRCA2 gene, which causes 69 percent of women to develop breast cancer by the age of 80.”
Dr. Powell has since dedicated her career to researching and helping women mitigate hereditary cancer risk. Since joining The Permanente Medical Group in 2008, she founded the multidisciplinary Hereditary Cancer Center at Kaiser Permanente San Francisco, and then collaborated with physician colleagues across KP Northern California in 2014 to create a network of five additional centers.
At each center, teams of specialists identify patients with any of the approximately 30 known cancer-related mutations via genetic screening, and then offer risk-reducing medical and surgical options and personalized cancer-screening schedules. Patients also receive consultation on targeted treatment, clinical trials, and novel therapies, and are closely tracked to ensure consistent follow-up.
To alleviate anxiety about diagnosis and provide full-service care, each patient’s care team meets in advance to discuss her unique circumstances, and then coordinates all needed services into a single visit. “A woman with a BRCA mutation, for example, will meet with a genetic counselor, a gynecologist, a breast surgeon, and— if she’s interested in prophylactic mastectomy—a plastic surgeon to discuss reconstruction,” says Dr. Powell. “She never has to leave the exam room.”
The centers also support research and innovative clinical trials, and Dr. Powell, who has published more than 80 studies on hereditary cancer and gynecologic oncology in medical journals, is considered a national expert in the field. She is currently studying early detection of ovarian cancer and health outcomes in women with BRCA mutations.