Since scientists found an association between the gene mutations BRCA1 and BRCA2 and breast cancer, many women have opted to get genetic screenings to find out whether they have these genes. Here are some things to consider to work out whether genetic screening for breast cancer is the right choice for you.
Do You Have a Family History of Breast Cancer?
Mutations in the genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 dramatically increase the risk of developing breast cancer. If you have these genes, you will probably also have a strong family history of this disease. The women who benefit most from genetic screening for breast cancer are those whose mothers, grandmothers, sisters or other female relatives have had breast cancer or ovarian cancer. If no one in your family has had these types of cancer, it is much less likely that you carry the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation.
Do You Have Ashkenazi Jewish Heritage?
The BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations are particularly common in people who are or who are descended from Ashkenazi Jews. This ethnic group, many of whom live on the east coast of the United States, are descended from a very small group of ancestors. As a result, they carry similar genes, including the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations. If you are part of this group, you have a higher than average chance of having a mutation that increases your risk of breast cancer.
Are You Willing to Take Action to Reduce Your Risk of Breast Cancer?
Before you decide to go ahead with genetic screening, think about how you will react if you learn that you carry a high-risk gene. Some women with BRCA1 or BRCA2 choose to have their breasts removed to reduce the risk of developing cancer, sometimes with removal of the ovaries as well. However, this drastic option is not the only choice.
Hormone therapy can protect women with these genes from breast and ovarian cancer. You can also choose to have regular mammograms or MRI breast scans beginning at the age of 25. This increases the chance of early detection so you can get treatment for cancer while it is still highly treatable.
Have You Spoken to a Genetic Counsellor?
A genetic counsellor can help you decide whether genetic screening is the right option for you. These people can discuss your risk factors and your attitudes toward medical risks and treatments to help you decide whether or not to go ahead with screening.