Breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women, after non-melanoma skin cancer, and is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women, after lung cancer. It is estimated that 180,510 new cases will be diagnosed in 2007 and 40,910 deaths will occur.
It is widely understood that increased risk for developing breast cancer can be passed down through families. However, there is a misconception that inherited breast cancer is more common than it is; in reality only 5 to10 percent of women with breast and ovarian cancer have a hereditary form of the disease.
When a permanent change in the order of the genetic code occurs, this is what is called a mutation or alteration. A woman with a BRCA 1 (BReast CAncer Gene 1) or BRCA 2 (BReast CAncer Gene 2) mutation is at a higher risk for developing breast and/or ovarian cancer than women who do not carry the mutation. Both men and women carry BRCA genes, therefore mutations can be passed from either side. It is important to note not every person who has a BRCA mutation will get cancer.
Women who have a significant breast cancer family history may wish to consider genetic testing to see if they carry a mutation in the BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 genes. Only a blood sample is needed. Finding mutated genes can take weeks, so do not expect test results right away. The price of genetic testing varies and, in some cases, may not be covered by health insurance. It is important to talk with a doctor for more information on privacy issues, insurance coverage, and whether genetic testing is a good option.
Receiving a positive test result does not necessarily mean a person will get cancer, only that there is an increased risk. If a mutation is not found it is also not a guarantee that cancer will not develop. Before getting tested, each person should decide what the advantages and disadvantages of being tested are for them. What will be right for one person may not be right for the other.
For more information about breast cancer, genetic testing, or any cancer concern, contact:
Cancer Information Service
Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center
UI Hospitals and Clinics
200 Hawkins Drive, 4802 JPP
Iowa City, Iowa 52242