October is breast cancer awareness month, and our team at MFM would like to shed some light on the importance of genetic testing for BRCA gene mutations, and how individuals with these gene mutations can take powerful steps toward cancer prevention.
The two breast cancer gene (BRCA) mutations include BRCA1 and BRCA2. People who have inherited a harmful variant in either of these genes tend to develop cancer at younger ages than those without a variant. In the general population, about 13% of women develop breast cancer in their lifetime. However, about 40-87% of those with BRCA1 mutations will develop breast cancer, and 45-69% of those with the BRCA2 mutation will develop breast cancer. While these statistics may seem alarming, genetic testing and counseling are great ways to prepare yourself or your family members and take steps for prevention and treatment.
Anyone, male or female, who has concerns that cancer may run in their family can benefit from genetic counseling. A genetic counselor can determine if it would be beneficial for you or your family members to test for BRCA1 and BRCA2 variants based on many factors, such as your personal or family history, your racial or ethnic background, and more.
Genetic testing is beneficial because it informs you or your family members if there is a higher risk of cancer in the family. Knowledge is power, and when you are informed, you can take the proper preventative steps.
If you are a woman and receive positive results from BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic testing, there are some steps you can take to prevent being diagnosed with cancer later in life. These include prophylactic mastectomy, a prophylactic oophorectomy, and having a mammogram and breast MRI every year starting at the age of 25.
Prophylactic mastectomy is a common preventative procedure to remove one or both breasts. By removing breast tissue, you may reduce the chance of developing breast cancer. In fact, for women with the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, prophylactic mastectomy reduces the risk of developing breast cancer by 90-95%. Also, for women who have already had breast cancer, this procedure can prevent the risk of developing cancer in the other breast by 90-95%. Some women may also choose to undergo a prophylactic oophorectomy to remove the ovaries, which can reduce the risk of both breast and ovarian cancer.
While some women may feel hesitant about undergoing these preventative surgeries, it is important to know that mastectomy techniques have greatly improved over the years, and some surgeons specialize in this procedure alone. Breast reconstruction options include using the patient’s own tissue from another area of the body or breast implants. When performed by a skilled and board-certified surgeon, breast reconstruction results can look nearly natural and many women are thrilled with their results. However, the decision to undergo one of these procedures is life-altering and should only be made in close consultation with a healthcare professional who specializes in the care and treatment of breast cancer.
At Carnegie Women’s Health, we provide genetic counseling to our patients and have a Board Certified Medical Geneticist on our staff to assist patients with genetic issues. Please contact our office today to learn more and to schedule your appointment.
Maternal Fetal Medicine blogs are intended for educational purposes only and do not replace certified professional care. Medical conditions vary and change frequently. Please ask your doctor any questions you may have regarding your condition to receive a proper diagnosis or risk analysis. Thank you!