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U.S News Tops Docs 2012

Breast Cancer…Is it in your genes?

There are two simple facts about breast cancer:

  •  In the U.S., 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime.
  • Hereditary breast cancer is not common. The majority of breast cancers are not inherited through a woman’s genes.

As a result, there are two common myths about breast cancer:

  • If I don’t have a family history, I can’t get breast cancer. 
  • If I have a family history of breast, I am automatically at a significantly higher risk of developing breast cancer.
DNA double Helix Currently, there are two breast cancer genes recognized: BRCA 1 and BRCA 2. These genes are involved in DNA repair, and when certain mutations occur in these genes, the ability of a breast cell to repair its DNA is impaired, and the cell becomes prone to becoming cancerous. To date, nearly 1,000 mutations in the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes have been identified, and many of these have been found to be associated with a significantly increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

In order to determine whether your family history is suggestive of a hereditary predisposition, your doctor will ask you for a detailed cancer history of your family tree. Certain patterns of cancer in a family may indicate the presence of a BRCA gene mutation. 

The NCCN (National Comprehensive Cancer Network) has published a set of guidelines to help doctors determine when genetic testing may be appropriate:

  • Early age onset breast cancer ≤ 50 years old
  • Two breast cancers in a single individual (at the same time or at different times, in same breast or opposite breast)
  • Breast cancer at any age with
    •  ≥ 1 close blood relative with breast cancer ≤ 50 years old, or
    • ≥ 1 close blood relative with ovarian/fallopian tube cancer at any age, or
    • ≥ 2 close blood relatives with breast cancer, ovarian/fallopian tube cancer, and/or pancreatic cancer at any age
  • Ovarian/fallopian tube cancer
  • Male breast cancer
  • Breast cancer in an individual of Ashkenazi Jewish descent
If you meet any of these criteria, your doctor will discuss genetic testing with you, or refer you to a genetic counselor, medial geneticist, oncologist, or other health professional with expertise and experience in BRCA gene testing.  Identification of a deleterious BRCA gene mutation may have significant implications on your future risk of breast and ovarian cancer. If you have breast cancer, this information may also be helpful in assisting you and your doctors determine the best treatment option and follow-up plan for you. BRCA gene testing is a DNA test which can be performed on either a blood sample or saliva sample in your doctor’s office. Most insurance plans will cover part/all of the test expense if you meet the appropriate criteria.


Signs and Symptoms
Self Breast Examination
Reducing Your Risk
Breast Cancer Myths
Genetic Testing
Diet, Exercise and Breast Cancer
For Patients