Many of them have a strongly positive family history for breast and/or ovarian cancer, and upon testing, they may learn they carry the BRCA gene. They may wish to have prophylactic (preventative) mastectomy and reconstruction to lower their risk of developing breast cancer.
Read the article below on hereditary breast cancer from the latest FORCE publication:
WHAT is hereditary cancer?
Breast cancer can result from changes in genes called "hereditary mutations." These gene changes can be passed down from the mother or the father to daughters or sons and cause cancer to run in some families.
The genes most often associated with hereditary breast cancer are called BRCA1 and BRCA2.
Changes in these genes can increase the risk for breast, ovarian, and other types of cancer.
If you have had breast cancer at age 50 or younger, you are more likely to have a BRCA mutation if you have:
- had ovarian cancer
- breast cancer in both breasts
- a relative with ovarian cancer at any age
- a relative with breast cancer at any age
- a relative with male breast cancer
- a relative with pancreatic cancer
- a relative with prostate cancer
- Eastern European Jewish (Ashkenazi Jewish) heritage
WHAT is gene testing and how would it affect me?
If you are a young woman who has been diagnosed with breast cancer, you can take a blood test (or a genetic test using cells swabbed from the inside of your cheek) to find out if you carry a BRCA gene mutation.
Cancer genetics experts include genetic counselors, risk assessment counselors, geneticists and other physicians with advanced training in genetics and hereditary disease. Before gene testing, you should talk with a genetics expert to learn if your cancer may have been caused by a BRCA mutation, and to help you and your family members decide if gene testing is right for you.
(I usually refer my patients to their breast surgeon or an oncologist to determine whether genetic testing is appropriate for them).
Learning that your breast cancer is hereditary may change treatment or follow-up recommendations. If you test positive for a mutation, each of your children and siblings has a 50% chance of carrying the mutation. Aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins may carry the mutation, too.
If you test positive for a mutation, your risk for a second breast cancer and other cancers may be
increased. If you test negative for these mutations, your risk for additional cancers depends on other factors. A genetics expert can help you better understand your risks for additional cancers.
The cost for gene testing can vary depending on which test is ordered. The cost is usually covered for young women diagnosed with breast cancer, either in part or in full, by insurance carriers.
WHERE can I learn more about hereditary cancer?
Experts in cancer genetics can help you understand hereditary cancer and provide you and your family with information about your cancer risk. They will:
- review your family medical history to assess and explain your risk for cancer
- describe the benefits and drawbacks of gene testing and discuss whether you are a candidate for testing
- order the appropriate test if you choose to proceed with gene testing
- assist with insurance coverage of testing
- interpret gene test results and explain what they mean for you and your family
- discuss how to manage your cancer risk and refer you to experts for follow-up care
To find an expert in your area, or to receive support and information visit www.facingourrisk.org or call the helpline at (866) 288-RISK (7475)
Women who develop breast cancer before age 50 are more likely to have one of these gene changes than women who develop breast cancer after age 50. There are options available for you and your family members to lower cancer risk and to detect cancer at an earlier, more curable stage.