BRCA1 and cancer: What women need to know

BreastCancerGene

In an effort to raise public awareness about breast and ovarian cancer prevention, actress and director Angelina Jolie shared her personal story with the world. Her op-ed piece in the New York Times revealed that a family history of cancer had prompted Jolie to seek genetic testing for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which are associated with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.

The testing revealed a heightened risk for both, and she made the decision to undergo a preventative double mastectomy, reducing her breast cancer risk to under 5 percent.

The Stats
Approximately 5-10 percent of breast and ovarian cancers are due to genetic defects, known as mutations, that cause an increased risk for cancer, mostly due to the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.

The general population has a 12 percent risk of breast cancer and 1 to 2 percent risk of ovarian cancer. For women with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 inherited mutations, the risks are significantly greater, with a lifetime risk of breast cancer up to 87 percent and a 27 to 44 percent risk of ovarian cancer.

Options
Knowing their risk empowers women to make informed decisions about their health, cancer screening and the option of risk-reducing surgery. It also enables family members to determine their risk of having the same genetic mutation. For women who have this mutation, it is important to remember that there are options. While Jolie opted for preventative surgery, another option is close surveillance with imaging and physical exams.

Who should consider testing?
Women with a personal or family history of breast cancer (particularly those diagnosed before the age of 50) or ovarian cancer are encouraged to speak to their doctor and to seek the expertise of a genetic counselor to assess the likelihood of a hereditary cancer gene in their family. Genetic counselors are specially trained health care professionals who can talk with women prior to and after genetic testing to help them understand the implications of their genetic test results, not only for themselves but for their family members.

Continuum Cancer Centers of New York provides genetic counseling to help determine the likelihood of a cancer gene and to discuss what steps patients can take to be proactive in their fight against cancer. For an appointment, call 212.844.6231. For more information on what steps you can take to reduce your risk of breast cancer, and to get your own personalized prevention plan, visit www.cancerteam.com.


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