Cancer, You Don't Scare Me!

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What are BRCA1 and BRCA2?

These are genes known as tumor suppressors. When a woman inherits a harmful mutation of one of these genes, it means she's much more likely to develop breast or ovarian cancer, says Susan M. Love, MD, author of Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book.

How much does it increase my risk?

Statistics vary according to the mutation, but about 60 percent of carriers will develop breast cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. That means they're about five times more likely to get it. About 15 to 40 percent with a mutation will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

Should I get tested?

If you have a strong family history on either your mother or father's side, you should talk with a genetic counselor. While it's a simple blood test, it can be expensive. Results may take several weeks, and you should check first to see if your insurance will cover it.

What are my choices if I do have a mutation?

  1. Aggressive monitoring with exams, mammography, MRIs, transvaginal ultrasound, and blood tests for markers such as CA-125.
  2. Chemoprevention, which means taking hormonal medication such as tamoxifen or raloxifene.
  3. Preventive surgery to remove as much of the at-risk tissue as possible, including breasts, ovaries, and fallopian tubes.

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, August 2012.

 

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