Genetic tests are helpful for people with risk factors for breast cancer and ovarian cancer, but not everyone needs them. Breast cancer genes can be rather confusing. Let’s dive in so you have a better understanding.
The Mystery and Miracle of Genes
Each cell in our body has approximately 20,500 genes. These genes are tiny parts of DNA that control how our cells function. One copy of each gene comes from our mother and the other from our father. Any gene can undergo changes or mutations and these abnormalities can change how the cell works.
Genetic testing is available if you have a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer. This test gives you information as to whether you have genes that put you at a higher risk for developing breast cancer, including the BRCA genes.
Genetic tests can be helpful for people with risk factors, but not everyone needs them.
To Test or Not to Test — and Genetic Counseling
Know your family history regarding breast and ovarian cancer. This information helps your OBGYN at About Women by Women become aware of who needs to be tested, OR IF you need to be tested.
A mutation in the two breast cancer genes seems to be the most common cause of hereditary breast cancer in 20-25% of cases. Up to 15% of people with breast cancer have an inherited genetic or inherited cause for the disease.
The CDC recommends having genetic counseling before a decision is made to test.
Consider the following situations:
- You have a strong family history of breast and ovarian cancer
- You have a moderate family history and are Ashkenazi Jewish or Eastern European
- You have a personal history of breast cancer and meet a number of other criteria
- You have a personal history of ovarian, fallopian tube, or primary peritoneal cancer
- You have a known BRCA1 and BRCA2 or other inherited mutations in your family
However, the CDC also tells us that having a strong family history of breast and ovarian cancer does not mean you definitely have the mutation. In fact, most women thought to be at an increased risk for BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations based on family history do not have these gene mutations. In addition, not everyone with a BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation has a strong health history of breast or ovarian cancer. Some even have no known health history of breast or ovarian cancer.
The Choice Is Yours
You have a number of medical options. The real value of testing may be the fact that if you know you have the mutated genes to be extra vigilant to catch cancer early when it’s most treatable. Get regular enhanced screenings starting at an early age.
Contact About Women by Women at (781) 263-0033 if you want more information about genetic testing and if it’s right for you.