Understanding Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer: What You Need to Know
Genetic mutations that increase the risk of cancer can be inherited and passed down through generations. This article aims to provide insight into whether your cancer or your family's cancer might be attributed to a genetic mutation.
1. The Concept of Hereditary Breast and Ovarian CancerHereditary cancer arises from inherited mutations in genes that typically safeguard against tumor formation in the body. These genetic mutations elevate an individual's susceptibility to various forms of cancer and are transmitted from parents to offspring. The most common culprits are BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which significantly heighten the risk of breast and ovarian cancer in carriers. Additionally, men with BRCA mutations face elevated risks of breast and prostate cancer, as well as heightened chances of developing pancreatic and skin cancer. Other genes like PALB2, ATM, and CHEK2 can also increase the risk of breast, ovarian, and other types of cancer. Genetic counselors can help assess your hereditary cancer risk and offer guidance on leading a healthier life.
2. Recognizing Risk Factors for Breast, Ovarian, and Other CancersIf you or a family member have experienced any of the following conditions, it's crucial to be aware of the risk:
- Ovarian, fallopian tube, or peritoneal cancer
- Breast cancer diagnosed before age 50
- Breast cancer in both breasts
- Triple-negative breast cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Breast cancer in men
- Prostate cancer before age 55 or metastatic prostate cancer
Multiple occurrences of these cancers within the same family (either the father's or mother's side) should also raise red flags. Lynch and Cowden syndrome can be linked to other hereditary cancers like colon, uterine, and thyroid cancer. Genetic counselors can help determine whether a genetic mutation is responsible for cancer in your family.
3. Identifying Hereditary Cancer through Genetic TestingGenetic mutations causing cancer are not inherited by most people, making genetic testing unnecessary for everyone. A genetic counselor can offer insights into genetic testing, cancer risk assessment, and strategies for healthier living. They will:
- Explain hereditary cancer
- Review your family's medical history to evaluate your hereditary cancer risk
- Discuss the advantages and limitations of genetic testing and whether it's suitable for you
- Arrange the necessary tests if you opt for genetic testing
- Interpret and clarify the test results for you and your family
- Suggest methods to manage your cancer risk and connect you with specialists for ongoing monitoring
Since there are various types of genetic testing, it's advisable to consult a genetic counselor before and after undergoing testing. Test results can influence cancer screening, prevention, and treatment decisions, and sharing these results with loved ones can raise awareness about their own cancer risk.
4. Deciphering Genetic Test ResultsThe significance of genetic testing hinges on the type of test and whether the results are positive or negative. Positive results indicate the presence of a genetic mutation, and the associated cancer risk depends on the specific genes affected, your age, gender, family history, and other factors. Negative results, while reassuring, do not provide a comprehensive assessment of your cancer risk, as other factors such as your medical and family history also play a role. Sharing your genetic test results with your family can be beneficial in assessing their cancer risk.
5. Strategies for Managing Cancer RiskThere are three primary methods for controlling cancer risk:
- Early detection screening
For cancer patients, genetic testing can inform treatment decisions, including surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, or targeted therapy. Additionally, participating in research and clinical trials can contribute to the development of better diagnostic, preventive, and treatment options for hereditary cancers, furthering the understanding and management of these conditions.