Why do you need genetic testing for breast cancer?

Women of different races in breast cancer awareness poster

We all know that genetic and family history is one of the risk factors for breast cancer.
However, do you know what are the most well-known genes that can mutate can increase the risk? Should I get a test to check for the genes?

The answer is in this write-up. Check it out now! 

Doctor explaining breast x-ray to patient

Know the gene - What are BRCA 1 & BRCA 2?

Human has numerous genes and each gene has 2 copies, one inherited from each parent. BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 are two of the most studied genes that affect hereditary breast cancer. (1)

The normal BRCA genes are in charge of producing proteins that help repair damaged genes, thus protecting us from getting certain cancer. However, some people inherit harmful variants (or what we called gene mutation) in one of these genes. These mutated genes raise the risk of breast, ovarian cancer and other cancers. (2)

Should I do the test?

Should I do a DNA test to check on the risk? This might be the question you wonder the most.

You are advised to have a test if 

  • There is a breast cancer history in your family
  • There is a woman in your family diagnosed with breast cancer at age 45 or younger
  • A close relative diagnosed with cancer in both breasts
  • A close relative was diagnosed with both breast and ovarian cancer
  • A male family member was diagnosed with breast cancer
  • You were diagnosed with breast cancer at the younger age (3), (4)
women's hand holding breast cancer pink ribbon

What is the risk of getting breast cancer if I inherited the mutated BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 gene?

A study of 3886 women showed that the chances of developing breast cancer, cumulative to the age of 80 years, were 72% for BRCA 1 and 69% for BRCA 2 carriers. (5)

While according to National Breast Cancer Foundation, it is estimated that 55 to 65% of women will develop breast cancer before age of 70 if they carry BRCA 1 mutation. While for women with a BRCA2 mutation, the risk is approximately 45%. (6)

Having a BRCA mutation put you at higher risk of developing breast cancer.

Should I still do a genetic test if I’ve already been diagnosed with breast cancer?

Yes, you are advised to do a genetic testing if you've been diagnosed with early or metastatic breast cancer. A genetic testing
1. May help guide you in breast cancer treatment

2. Looks for gene mutation in hereditary genes of a person, thus it is an important message for your family members. (7)

doctor comforting a breast cancer patient

What should I do with the genetic result?

The DNA test detects 3 specific genetic variants: 2 variants in BRCA1 and 1 variant in BRCA 2.
These variants are associated with the risks of developing certain cancer.

If you have at least 1 variant detected, it shows you have a mutation known to cause hereditary breast cancer. However, it does not mean you will get cancer.

What you can do is.
- Bring the report and look for a breast cancer specialist or oncologist. The doctor will suggest you some medical option that is suitable for you.
- Do yearly breast cancer screening with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and mammogram
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle and manage the stress level

If you have 0 variants detected,

It means that you do not carry mutated BRCA genes, and your risk of cancer is the same as the general population. 

women wearing pink smiling with each others

What are the other possible risk factors of breast cancer?

Besides genetics, there are more factors that contribute to breast cancer, some can be modified while others are not.

Non-Modifiable Risk Factors (Unchangeable)

1. Genetic
Gene mutation in BRCA 1 & BRCA 2 increases the risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
2. Age
Breast cancer risk goes up with age. It is frequently found in women around the age of menopause
3. Sex
A woman has an exceedingly high chance of getting breast cancer as compared to a man.
4. Race
According to breastcancer.org, white women have a slightly higher chance of developing breast cancer as compared to Black, Hispanic, and Asian Women. (8)
5. Hormonal change
Studies have found early menarche (first occurrence of menstruation) is associated with higher breast cancer risk.(9)

Modifiable Risk Factors (Changeable)

1. Obesity
Women who gain weight after menopause have a comparatively higher risk than those who maintain a healthy weight.
2. Alcohol
Drinking alcohol regularly not only increases the risk of breast cancer but other cancers as well.
3. Physically inactive
Being physically active is an effective way to reduce breast cancer risk after menopause
4. Taking hormone
Taking some form of hormone therapy during menopause may raise the risk when taking more than five years.
5. Late pregnancy and breastfeeding (10), (11)
Women who have late pregnancy (give birth to their first child after age 30) and not breastfeeding, have a higher risk of breast cancer

Protect you and your family

Do the genetic testing now

Also check this article to understand some misconceptions about breast cancer: 

Shiang Jiun Heng

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