In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month, we’d like to share with our patients an innovative genetic test for women with a strong family history of breast cancer.
Breast cancer affects nearly 1 out of every 8 women. Approximately 20-30% of those women have a family history of the disease. Over the years, a considerable amount of research has been devoted to studying the correlation between breast cancer and genetics. For those with multiple risk factors in their family health history, we can perform a test using a simple blood sample or swab of the mouth to detect mutations in breast cancer susceptibility genes – BRCA 1 and BRCA 2.
What are BRCA genes?
BRCA1 and BRCA2 are human genes that belong to a class of genes known as tumor suppressors. Harmful mutations to the BRCA genes can affect their ability to control the growth of cancerous cells. Although these mutations are fairly uncommon, and account for only 5-10% of breast cancer, they pose a high risk for the women who inherit them. According to the National Cancer Institute, women carrying the harmful BRCA mutations have a 60% chance of developing breast cancer within their lifetime, compared to the 12% risk of the general female population.
Could I be a candidate for testing?
At Beaver Dam Women’s Health, we regularly discuss family history of breast cancer with our patients. This helps us determine not only their susceptibility to breast cancer, but also what sort of preventative care and screening approach is best.
BRCA gene testing is only for a small percentage of the population – 5 to 10 percent – who might be at an increased risk for breast cancer due to their hereditary or genetic backgrounds. The test is very specific. Following is a list of possible risk factors for women who may be eligible for the test:
- Personal or family member(s) under the age of 50 who have had breast cancer.
- Personal or family history of ovarian cancer at any age.
- Personal or family member(s) who has had breast cancer in both breasts.
- Family member(s) who have had male breast cancer.
- Family ethnic background of Ashkenazi-Jewish descent.
It is important to understand that not one of these risk factors alone triggers the need for BRCA testing. Usually it is a combination of factors that will lead us to explore a patient’s need for this type of test. During your visit with us, we will discuss your specific family history to determine whether or not you may be a candidate for BRCA testing.
What can the results indicate?
BRCA results provide us with important information regarding a patient’s possible risk for developing breast cancer.
If the results are negative (considered normal), this means that there have been no changes or mutations in the BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 genes, however it is still important to continue regular screening using techniques such as self breast exams and mammograms.
If the results are positive, this typically indicates that mutations in the BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 genes were found. In this case, further testing such as mammogram screening, breast MRIs or surgical interventions could be possible management options.
Whether your test results are positive or negative, it is important to regularly discuss breast health with your doctor.
At Beaver Dam Women’s Health, our goal is to provide women with the tools and resources to make informed decisions about their health. By offering BRCA testing for our patients most at risk, we are able increase the chance of detecting breast cancer in its earliest stages.
If you’re concerned about your family history of breast cancer and would like to speak with one of our medical professionals, please contact us to set up an appointment at (920) 885-6090.
About the Author:
Andrea Bushaw, MSN, WHNP, APNP
Andrea is the clinic’s Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner. Originally from Bismark, North Dakota, Andrea attended the University of North Dakota where she received her BS in Nursing and then moved to Wisconsin and earned her Masters of Science in Nursing at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. As a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner, she specializes in everything from contraceptive management, urinary incontinence, menstrual complications, to general disease prevention and diagnosis. In addition to her knowledge and experience in the medical field, Andrea is also excellent at relating to her patients on a personal level and making them feel comfortable throughout their healthcare experience.