Approximately 5 to 10 percent of women who develop breast cancer have inherited a breast cancer susceptibility gene. Families which carry alterations in the most common susceptibility genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, are often characterized by multiple cases of breast cancer occurring at early ages, in both breasts, or together with ovarian cancer. Men who carry these cancer susceptibility genes may also develop breast cancer.
A careful examination of the family tree (also known as a pedigree) may provide clues to the possible causes of increased cancer within a family. A genetics counselor is available in the breast center to construct a pedigree and offer information to individuals who are concerned that they may have inherited a breast cancer susceptibility gene. This genetics expert can discuss the risks and benefits of undergoing a blood test to determine if a genetic change is present which would increase an individual’s lifetime risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. The genetics counselor can assist with determining whether or not this testing is covered by health insurance. The genetics counselor in conjunction with a physician will discuss how the test results might be used to design a personalized risk reducing health plan.
Eligible individuals may enroll in clinical trials designed to develop new prevention therapies/ medicines for breast cancer and to improve our understanding of the biology of this type of disease.
More information about genetic changes associated with an increased risk of breast cancer can be found at the following web sites: