Breast and Ovarian Cancers Can Run in Families
Your mother or grandmother. Your sister or daughter. Your father’s sister, niece, or other women from your father’s side of the family. If you or your close relatives have a history of breast or ovarian cancer, there may be an inherited risk that runs in your family.
In every family, certain traits are shared and passed on from one generation to the next. Most obvious are physical traits such as eye or hair color, or resemblances that parents and children share. Less obvious are inherited genetic traits that control the tendency to develop specific diseases, such as certain cancers.
Many people don’t realize that about 10% of breast and ovarian cancers are hereditary–that is, they are due to a mutated (altered) gene passed on from parent to child. You don’t actually inherit cancer, but rather you inherit a higher risk of developing it.
Does Breast or Ovarian Cancer Run in Your Family?
If there’s a pattern of breast and/or ovarian cancer in your family, you can reduce your risk. You may benefit from learning more about your own risk. Current cancer research shows that early detection–along with proactive medical care– has been proven to help reduce cancer risk, and save lives.
You could have an inherited risk if:
- You were diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 50 and/or ovarian cancer at any age
- You have close family members (mother’s or father’s side) diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 50, ovarian cancer at any age, or male breast cancer at any age
Inheriting a Gene Mutation Puts You at Higher Risk…
We each get two copies of every gene–one from our mother and one from our father. Because we inherit all of our different traits from our parents through a genetic blueprint, if either parent carries a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, we may carry it, too.
Two specific genes called BRCA1 and BRCA2 play a big role in preventing breast and ovarian cancers. Normally, these genes act like brakes that help stop abnormal cell growth. However, alterations, or mutations, can occur in these BRCA genes. When this happens, the genes do not work as they should, and there is a loss of control on cell growth. Certain groups of cells can grow at an abnormally fast rate, and cancer may develop.
It is also important to know that while BRCA gene mutations are associated with most hereditary breast and ovarian cancers, there are other genetic causes of these cancers, too. Some are known, some have yet to be discovered.
…but you can choose to explore effective options now
If breast or ovarian cancer runs in your family, it’s important to realize you have options. Your doctor, genetic counselor, or other healthcare provider can help you find out about ways to help reduce your risk now, including:
- Monthly breast self-exams by age 18-21
- Annual or semiannual clinical breast exams beginning at age 25-35
- Annual mammograms and/or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) beginning at age 25-35
- Annual or semiannual transvaginal ultrasound and a CA-125 test to screen for ovarian cancer beginning at age 25-35
Preventive Drug Therapy
- Drugs such as tamoxifen can reduce the risk of breast cancer in some high-risk women
- Oral contraceptives can significantly reduce the risk of ovarian cancer
- Preventive mastectomy can significantly reduce the risk of breast cancer
- Preventive removal of the ovaries (oophorectomy) significantly reduces the risk of ovarian cancer and may also reduce the risk of breast cancer
BRACAnalysis®: A Genetic Test for Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer
Taking a closer look at your family history is the first step toward finding out whether you may be at risk. Choosing to know more is a decision you can make with the help of your doctor or other healthcare provider. Ask your doctor about a hereditary cancer test called BRACAnalysis®.
BRACAnalysis® is not like a mammogram or other screening tests intended for the general population it’s specifically for individuals thought to be at high risk of breast or ovarian cancer– due to family history, or because they developed breast cancer at any age. BRACAnalysis® is a blood test that detects mutations in the genetic code of BRCA1 and BRCA2. Only a small blood sample is taken for analysis.
Before testing even begins, you may meet with a genetic counselor or other qualified healthcare provider to do a comprehensive evaluation of your family history and make sure BRACAnalysis® is right for you, as well as to discuss the possible benefits and limitations of this test.
What BRACAnalysis® tells you and your family
The test can tell you whether a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation runs in your family. The test results can help your physician estimate your risk for breast or ovarian cancer, so that a personalized cancer risk reduction plan can be developed for you. The test does not tell you whether you have cancer.
Why BRACAnalysis® test results are important?
BRACAnalysis® test results may enable you and your family to make more informed choices and decisions.
- A woman who discovers she carries BRCA mutation can decide whether to start screening earlier in life or to reduce her risk by using measures such as medications or surgery.
- A woman already diagnosed with cancer can take proactive steps to try to prevent a second cancer. Her healthcare provider may also use the information to make treatment decisions. For example, to help determine whether surgery is needed.
- A woman with a family history may also find out she is NOT carrying the gene mutation.
- Individuals with family histories of breast or ovarian cancer may want to know whether they carry a mutation that could be passed down to their children.
Knowing your test results can also help your doctor or other healthcare provider manage your healthcare needs more effectively.
Should other family members be tested?
BRACAnalysis can also help relatives of those who have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation. Testing helps them determine whether they carry the gene mutation that increases their own risk for cancer. By getting tested, other family members might also find out that they are not carrying the mutated gene.
This means that their risk for cancers related to BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations is the same as that of the general population, and that their physicians can continue to follow regular guidelines in managing their cancer risk. Testing negative for a known mutation in the family does not mean zero cancer risk, but it does mean there is no increased risk, in spite of a family history.
Be ready against cancer now
Remember: Knowing your risk–and doing everything you can to lower it–could make a big difference for you, for your family, and for your future healthcare choices.
BRACAnalysis can help you find out your risk, so you can fight hereditary breast and ovarian cancer before it even develops.
Now is the time to ask your healthcare provider about hereditary cancer risk assessment and testing, and how it can benefit you and your family. Some Important Facts and Figures
- Women with BRCA mutation have:
A 33%-50% risk of developing breast cancer by age 50 and a 56%-87% risk by age 70
A 27%-44% chance of developing ovarian cancer by age 70
- Certain mutations of the BRCA genes are more common among people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent (Central or Eastern European)
- Half of all women with a hereditary risk of breast and ovarian cancers inherited the risk from their fathers, not their mothers
- BRCA mutations also increase the risk for other cancers in both men and women, including up to 6% risk for male breast cancer
- Having a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation increases the risk for breast and ovarian cancers. Also, for those who have had breast or ovarian cancer, a mutation could mean a higher risk for developing a second cancer
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is the testing process like?
A: After meeting with your doctor or other trained healthcare provider, you will need to sign an informed consent form and provide a small blood sample. Your blood sample will be shipped directly to Myriad. Results can be obtained from your healthcare provider in about 2 weeks.
Q: Will my health insurance pay for the BRACAnalysis® test?
A: Most health insurance companies pay for the BRACAnalysis® test. In fact, more than 90%of tests receive coverage, and the average reimbursement is greater than 90%.
Q: Can my health insurance company refuse coverage based on the results?
A: No. The Federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, as well as legislation in most states, protects patient privacy and prohibits health insurance discrimination based on genetic information. To date, there are no documented cases of health insurance discrimination as a result of genetic testing for hereditary breast and ovarian cancers.
Q: Will anyone else know the results of my test?
A: No. Your test results are strictly confidential. Myriad only releases test results to the healthcare provider who ordered the test. Even when insurance plans pay for testing, the insurer does not receive the results.
***THIS INFORMATION COMES FROM THE BRACANALYSIS® BROCHURE PRODUCED BY MYRIAD GENETIC LABORATORIES, INC. ©***
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