Breast cancer caused by the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations are rare and account for only 5-7% of breast cancers.
Discussing genetic testing with your doctor should be considered if your family has:
- Cancer in multiple generations
- A cancer which has developed at a younger than normal age
- Rare and unusual cancers
- A woman in the family who has had both breast and ovarian cancer
- A male with breast cancer
Testing is usually done on the family member who has cancer. If a specific genetic defect is found, then other family members can test for that specific defect rather than the entire investigative panel. However, a negative test is not always the end of the story. There may be gene mutations responsible for cancer that have not yet been identified or tested.
It’s important to keep in mind that these gene mutations can occur in any race, but do appear more often in Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry (Eastern European). It’s also important to remember that you inherit genes from your mother and father. So, the history of breast cancer in the relatives on your father’s side of the family is equally important.
A woman without the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations has a 12-13% chance of developing breast cancer in her lifetime, as opposed to a woman with the gene mutations who has a 60-80% chance. In addition, if she has already had breast cancer there is a 50% chance of getting breast cancer again.
There is also increased risk of ovarian cancer. A woman without the gene mutation has a 1-2% chance of developing ovarian cancer, but a woman with the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation has a 30-45% chance of developing ovarian cancer.
BRCA1 versus BRCA2
With BRCA2, you see:
- More male breast cancer
- Less ovarian cancer than BRCA1 mutation
- More prostate, pancreatic and melanoma than BRCA1 mutation
It’s not only people who have the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations that can be proactive when it comes to prevention. Everyone can do this by following these 3 key measures:
- Achieving a healthy body weight
- Regular physical activity
- Healthy eating
In fact, 1/3 of common cancers can be prevented by these three measures.
The American Institute for Cancer Research estimates that lifestyle choices are a far more significant predictor of cancer risk. This can sometimes be difficult to sort out as some families can see a higher prevalence of cancer – but families also share lifestyles, such as eating and exercise habits, as well as genes.
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