By Kelsey Mumford, Medical Advisor
Did you know that breast cancer can be hereditary?
While spooky season is generally reserved for pumpkin spice lattes, cozy cardigans, and orange leaves falling in your hair in a way that just screams #candid, we at Birds N Bees are also taking it as an opportunity to discuss a spooky topic that needs more awareness: hereditary breast cancer.
Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer that affects American women (other than skin cancer), being responsible for one in three new female cancer diagnoses annually. In 2022 alone, it is estimated that over 250,000 women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, and almost all of these women will be 45 years or older. However, for this small contingency of women that are younger than 45-years-old when they are diagnosed, the culprit behind their diagnoses could be the BRCA1 or 2 gene mutation, which causes a form of hereditary breast cancer.
While everyone has the BRCA1 and 2 genes in their DNA, problems only arise when mutations occur in them that prevent them from properly doing their jobs. These jobs include preventing breast, ovarian, and other cells from dividing in an uncontrolled way. When these genes malfunction, the above cells can divide rapidly and form tumors, causing cancer of the breast or ovaries most commonly.
Mutations in the BRCA1 or 2 genes that increase the risk of breast, ovarian, and other types of cancers occur in 1 out of 500 women in the United States. While this is relatively uncommon, the effects of these mutations can be significant: for American women with BRCA1 or 2 gene mutations, 50 out of 100 will be diagnosed with breast cancer by the time they are 70-years-old, compared to only 7 women without the mutation. Additionally, 30 out of 100 women with the mutation will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the same timeframe, compared to fewer than 1 woman without.
If you have a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer, especially if women in your family were diagnosed at less than 45-years-old, ask your doctor about being tested for BRCA1 and 2 gene mutations. If one of your parents has the gene mutation, then you have a 50% chance of having it as well. While these gene mutations increase your chances of getting breast or ovarian cancer, there are preventative measures that you can take to manage your risk. If you are diagnosed with a gene mutation, talk to your doctor about whether prophylactic surgery might be an appropriate option for you.