Have You Inherited a Greater Risk of Breast Cancer?


Recently, genetic testing for inherited diseases has become a popular topic in health news, and reports in the New York Times and other outlets have mentioned a “breast cancer gene” that is passed down from generation to generation.

In fact, there are two genes that play a role in breast cancer, known as BRCA1 and BRCA2. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) at the National Institutes of Health, these genes belong to a class of genes that produce proteins that suppress tumors. (For more on the BRCA genes, see this fact sheet from the NCI.) A person with a mutation on these genes is at significantly higher risk for developing breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and possibly other cancers. The mutation is inherited.

How does someone know if their BRCA genes are mutated?
Mutations can be detected through a blood test that analyzes the DNA. Having a BRCA mutation, however, is relatively uncommon, and according to the Mayo Clinic, the test is generally offered only to people who are likely to have the mutation. You may be a candidate for BRCA gene testing if you have any of the following risk factors:

•Personal or family history of certain types of breast or ovarian cancer
•A male relative with breast cancer (the American Cancer Society estimates about 2,240 men in the U.S. will be diagnosed in 2013)
•A relative with a known BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation
•Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish ancestry, with a personal history or close relative with breast or ovarian cancer

What should you do if you’re at risk?
If you think you may be at increased risk, ask your doctor if you should see a genetics specialist or take other precautionary measures. Ask your doctor if you should start mammograms at an earlier age, and see if you qualify for risk-reducing hormone therapy or medications. Ensure you get enough exercise—taking the stairs rather than the elevator, biking rather than driving to work, mowing the lawn, and taking a walk with your family are easy ways to increase your activity—and maintain a healthy diet and weight.

For more prevention tips, visit “Health Topics” at Source4Women.com.