Breast Cancer Survival Guide, Part 1
Should You Get a Gene Test?
If you already know that you're at high risk for breast cancer because of your family history, the answer is probably yes. Women who have either the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations can take lifesaving steps to prevent breast cancer -- or catch it early. And there's another important reason: ovarian cancer, which is much rarer than breast cancer and might be in your heredity without your knowing it. Having either breast cancer mutation, which increases the odds a woman will get breast cancer by up to 80 percent, also ups the likelihood of ovarian cancer by up to 54 percent.
Only one in 500 women has the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, but the carrier rate for these faulty bits of DNA is about one in 40 for women of Jewish ancestry from Eastern Europe -- a group known as Ashkenazi Jews. Having a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer -- and both sides of the family count -- is another factor that increases the odds you carry the mutation. Watch for one or more diagnoses of breast or ovarian cancer -- regardless of age -- in your family. If you have any of these risk factors, talk to your doctor about a referral to a genetic counselor, suggests Andrew Berchuck, MD, president of the Society for Gynecologic Oncologists.
Studies show that in women with the mutations, preventive ovary removal can reduce the risk of ovarian cancer 80 percent, and prophylactic mastectomy can reduce breast cancer risk 90 percent.
For more information about the genetic risks of cancer, check out FORCE: Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered, a nonprofit support, information, and advocacy group located at 16057 Tampa Palms Blvd. W. #373, Tampa, FL 33647; 954-255-8732; www.facingourrisk.org.What Makes a Woman "High Risk"?
- A known BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation
- A first-degree relative (mother, father, sibling or child) with either gene mutation
- A strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer: two or more close female relatives (mother or sister) diagnosed with breast cancer before menopause or with ovarian cancer at any age; or any male relative diagnosed with breast cancer
- Having had radiation therapy to the chest to treat lymphoma
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, October 2007.
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