At Myriad Genetics, our mission is to advance health and well-being for all, and a big component of that is developing reliable, accessible genetic tests for a variety of conditions. These tests are used by many patient-facing clinical teams who help people understand when to get tested and what their results mean. To honor these doctors, genetic counselors, and advanced practice providers, we’re kicking off this new blog series to shine a spotlight on people who make such a big difference for their patients.

We’re thrilled to start this new series with a focus on Kara Cossis, a certified physician assistant and director of advanced practice providers at Chesapeake Urology, a network of 15 clinics focused on prostate cancer and other urology needs in Maryland. In the 11 years she has been with the group, Kara has worked closely with her colleagues to build out an entire practice dedicated to helping hundreds of prostate cancer patients every month. We chatted with her to learn more.

Q: How did you get focused on prostate cancer?

A: I was working closely with a physician at an inner city hospital in Baltimore when we realized there was a need for better prostate cancer care and decided to give it a try. We worked hard to standardize treatment, coordinate care, manage schedules, and ensure that everyone on the team is following and upholding the standards we’ve made in the practice. I’ve been able to manage and see people from their diagnosis all the way to their end of life. You really build a special relationship with these patients while coordinating their cancer care. 

Q: Why did you start incorporating genetic testing into patient care?

A: It became a bigger part of our practice with the approval of PARP inhibitors. We had to figure out the eligibility of various patients so we had to start screening and monitoring them with genetic tests. We also participated in trials to get these therapies approved, and the ease of having genetic tests in our workflow and our algorithm helped us with that.

Q: How has the use of genetic testing expanded over time?

A: Beyond matching patients to treatments through actionable mutations, we found that people often wanted to know more about their disease and the risk for their children to develop prostate cancer in the future. There is a lot of anxiety for patients who worry that this might be something they’re passing on to their children. Genetic risk testing can provide that information, and also help patients understand their own hereditary risk not just for prostate cancer but for various other cancers as well. That could affect the way they handle routine screenings for their health in other areas.

Q: Could you share a patient anecdote where genetic testing made a real impact?

A: I remember a 68-year-old patient with elevated PSA who was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He did not respond to initial treatment, so we used genetic testing and found an actionable BRCA2 mutation that could be targeted with the PARP inhibitor Lynparza. The patient remained on that treatment for a year, and during that time he was healthy enough to attend his son’s wedding, which he may not otherwise have lived long enough to do.

Q: What advice do you have for Myriad blog readers?

A: Prostate cancer is one of the most prevalent diagnoses in males, so I encourage men to have their routine PSA screenings and digital rectal exams. Make sure you’re taking a proactive approach to your individual health! If you’re not getting these routine screenings from your primary care provider, it’s OK to seek out urology care. Also, ask your provider if you qualify for genetic testing. Information is knowledge, and having that knowledge is something I would encourage everyone to do.

To learn more, check out this recent podcast about urology with Kara and T.J. Slavin, our chief medical officer.

Kara Cossis is the director of advanced practice providers at Chesapeake Urology, a large network of clinics focused on prostate cancer and other urology needs throughout Maryland. She also collaboratively oversees the organization’s Advanced Prostate Cancer Clinics. Kara has been a certified physician assistant since 2006 and performs assessments, diagnoses, and treatments of patients in hospitals and clinic settings. She is certified by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants and licensed by the Maryland Board of Physicians. Kara earned her master’s degree in public health from the University of Florida and bachelor’s degrees from West Virginia Wesleyan College and SUNY Stony Brook.