In the fight against breast cancer, preventative measures are important. Women are constantly reminded that the best defense against cancer is following healthy habits like eating well, exercising, and scheduling regular breast exams and mammograms to detect abnormalities. But for some women, preventative measures aren’t always enough.
Five to ten percent of all breast cancer cases diagnosed in the United States are a result of inherited gene mutations, which are passed down to us and can’t be controlled through typical breast cancer prevention behaviors. The most common genetic mutations that affect breast cancer risk are BRCA1 and BRCA2.
“BRCA1 and BRCA2, which can be passed down from either your mother or father, can cause a 40 to 85 percent higher chance of developing breast cancer,” explains Andrea Barrio, MD, breast surgeon at Bryn Mawr Hospital.
Although BRCA1 and BRCA2 can increase a woman’s chances for being diagnosed with breast cancer, Dr. Barrio says that most women who develop breast cancer do not carry the breast cancer gene. But still, women want to know: Am I at risk? How will I know?
Genetic testing can clue you in to whether or not you’re affected by either BRCA1 or BRCA2. Women with a personal or family history of breast or ovarian cancer, especially at a young age, should talk to their doctor about genetic testing.
“Without a history of breast or ovarian cancers, genetic testing typically isn’t necessary. Still, pay attention to symptoms of these cancers so that you can talk to your doctor about anything out of the ordinary. The earlier cancer is detected, the earlier it can be treated,” says Dr. Barrio.
Women age 40 and over should schedule annual mammograms to detect abnormalities before they become more serious, but breast self-exams can be conducted by women under age 40 and in between mammograms to keep an eye out for lumps or abnormalities.
For more information on breast health services or genetic testing options, visit our website.