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Do You Need Genetic Testing for Ovarian and Breast Cancer?

Focused on Health - October 2011

genetic testing breast cancerby Laura Nathan-Garner

Have two or more relatives who’ve had breast or ovarian cancer? You may need to gauge your cancer risk by undergoing genetic testing.

That’s because women with BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations are much more likely to get breast and ovarian cancers. And, men with these mutations are at an increased risk of breast cancer and possibly pancreatic and early-onset prostate cancers.

But only about 5 to 10% of cancer cases are actually associated with family history. So, even if you have several family members who’ve had cancer, the chances that the disease “runs in your family” are still pretty slim.

How do you know if you should get tested for the BRCA mutations? Use these tips.

Focus on close blood relatives.

Before jumping to conclusions about your family’s cancer history, make sure you’re focusing on the right relatives. You should be tracking the health history of your first-degree blood relatives (parents, siblings, children) and second-degree relatives (grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews).

Women are twice as likely to develop breast cancer if one or more of these relatives have had the disease.

Men and women also should be concerned if multiple generations have had breast or ovarian cancer. But that’s only true if the relatives who’ve had cancer are all on the same side of the family.

This means they are all on either your mother’s or your father’s side of the family. So, if your mother’s sister and your father’s sister had breast cancer, the disease probably doesn’t run in your family.  

Size up these relatives’ personal cancer histories.

genetic testing breast cancer

Testing for BRCA mutations may be appropriate if one or more close blood relatives were diagnosed with:

Are you of Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish descent and have one or more relatives who fit this description? Your chances for a BRCA mutation may be even higher.

Speak with a genetic counselor.

If one or more of your close blood relatives fit these criteria, ask your doctor to refer you to a genetic counselor. He or she can talk to you about the risks and benefits of genetic testing and determine whether genetic testing is appropriate based on your family history.

Keep in mind that learning you have a gene mutation doesn’t mean you’ll definitely get cancer. And, learning that you don’t have a gene mutation doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get cancer.  

Learn more about genetic counseling and testing.

Related Links:
MD Anderson Clinical Cancer Genetics Program
Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Syndrome (MD Anderson)
BRCA1 and BRCA2: Cancer Risk and Genetic Testing (National Cancer Institute)
Breast Cancer Patients With BRCA Gene Diagnosed Almost Eight Years Earlier Than Generation Before (MD Anderson)

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