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What's Your Risk of Inheriting Breast Cancer?

02 November 2017

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If one of your close relatives has been diagnosed with breast cancer, you may have concerns about whether breast cancer runs in the family (sometimes called hereditary breast cancer). 

A small number of people have an increased risk of breast cancer because of their family history. Knowing your genetic red flags that might increase your risk for inherited breast cancer is key and will help you decide if genetic testing is a good choice. 

What is Hereditary Breast Cancer?

All cancer is caused by abnormalities, also known as mutations, in someone’s genes. Although most mutations happen by chance and some are thought to be caused by environment and lifestyle, some mutations are passed down and cause hereditary breast cancer. According to The American Cancer Society, 12- 14 percent of breast cancer is caused by an inherited gene mutation, which can be passed down from either the maternal or paternal side of the family.

The most common cause of inherited breast cancer risk is a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. People who carry the mutation in these genes have a condition called Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Syndrome (HBOC). Women with HBOC have up to an 87 percent risk of developing breast cancer by age 70. To compare, an average woman’s lifetime risk of developing breast cancer is around 7 percent. Women with HBOC also have a 63 percent risk of developing ovarian cancer, compared to .7 percent for the average woman. Men with HBOC have an increased risk for breast cancer and prostate cancer.

Mutations in other genes like TP53, PTEN, CDH1, PALB2, CHEK2, ATM, NBN and BARD1 are also associated with breast cancer.

Genetic testing is the only way to determine if you have inherited a mutation in your genes that causes breast cancer. Please note: genetic testing does not tell you if you have breast cancer; it just tells you if you are at increased risk for developing breast or other cancers.

Red Flags for Hereditary Breast Cancer

People who have, or have a family history of, anything from the list below are considered high risk. Close blood relatives to consider in your family’s medical history should include first, second or third-degree relatives in the maternal or paternal lineage.

  • Breast cancer diagnosed by age 50 or younger
  • Ovarian cancer at any age
  • Two primary breast cancers
  • Triple negative breast cancer (a diagnosis of triple negative breast cancer means that the three most common types of receptors known to fuel most breast cancer growth -- estrogen, progesterone, and the HER-2/neu gene -- are not present in the cancer tumor)
  • Three or more HBOC-associated cancers on the same side of the family at any age (pancreatic, ovarian, breast, or aggressive prostate)
  • A previously identified HBOC syndrome mutation in the family
  • Individual history of breast biopsy with atypical cells
  • Male breast cancer at any age
  • Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry

If any of the red flags apply to you, you could have an inherited risk of breast cancer, which means you are a good candidate for genetic testing and counseling. Knowing you have a genetic mutation allows you and your physician to take steps to manage your cancer risks. These steps could include increased surveillance, risk-reducing medication or preventive surgery.

INTEGRIS Breast Health Services includes a High Risk and Genetics Clinic that offers comprehensive services to determine a person’s likelihood of developing breast cancer based on his or her unique risk factors. The services are provided by Jeneice Miller, Certified Nurse Practitioner and Advanced Genetics Nurse-Board Certified. She can be reached at 405-552-0400.