October 24th, 2016

It’s a fact many of us are all too familiar with – breast cancer is common. On average, 1 in every 8 women will develop breast cancer at some point in her lifetime; female breast cancer makes up nearly 15% of all new cancer cases in the US each year according to the National Cancer Institute. Though there is still much to learn on the risk factors for breast cancer, there is one risk factor which is very well established – genetics.


Women who have a family history of breast cancer, especially when diagnosed under age 50, have a higher risk of breast cancer compared to women who have no family history of the disease. Why? Genes.


A gene is a small subset of your DNA which carries out a specific function in your body. We all have thousands of genes, including a subset whose jobs are to protect us from cancer. When one of these genes does not work properly, it can put the person in a higher-risk category for cancer. Two of the most famous genes that can increase the risk of cancer when they are not working properly are BRCA1 and BRCA2. Though these genes are responsible for a large portion of hereditary breast cancers, there are many other genes that can increase the risk of breast cancer as well.


What should you do if you have a family history of breast cancer? Talk to your doctor or genetic counselor about your risk. In certain situations, evaluations by a trained genetics professional can be crucial in determining whether you may carry one of these genetic predispositions to breast cancer and can also establish the right screening guidelines for you. With the right screening in place, cancers can often be caught in early, more treatable stages. Knowing your genetic risk of cancer can be life-saving.


About the author:

Anna Victorine, MS, CGC is a board-certified genetic counselor at Provenance Healthcare. She currently specializes in cancer genetics and personalized medicine. Appointments with Anna can be made by calling 702-478-2524.