Beat Breast Cancer
Should I get a genetic test for breast cancer?
If two or more of your close relatives (mother, sister, daughter, aunt, grandmother) have had breast cancer, your risk may be increased. A blood test that analyzes your DNA can determine whether you have a mutation of the breast cancer susceptibility genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2. These mutations are present in less than 1 percent of the general population, but women who have them—mostly those who have the disease in their family—have a 60 percent to 80 percent lifetime risk for developing breast cancer compared to the 12 percent lifetime risk for women who don’t.
Before you take the test: Speak to a genetic counselor (the service is covered by most insurance plans) who can explain the results and walk you through scenarios to consider should your results be positive. The counselor can also help you deal with the emotions your results can evoke, says Heather Hampel, M.S., professor of internal medicine and certified genetic counselor with The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center.
If you test posItIve: A positive test doesn’t necessarily mean you will develop breast cancer, just as a negative test doesn’t mean you won’t ever develop another form of the disease. Still, a positive result should mean more frequent mammograms, breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and clinical breast exams. Some women undergo chemoprevention (using drugs to reduce cancer risk) or even a risk-reducing mastectomy. In addition, women who test positive for BRCA mutations are also at increased risk for ovarian cancer, and it is often recommended that they have their ovaries and fallopian tubes removed (ideally between ages 35 and 40, and upon completion of childbearing). Research also shows removing ovaries by age 40 decreases the risk for breast cancer by as much as 60 percent. As a result, most women who test positive for the gene at Hampel’s Ohio clinic have their ovaries and fallopian tubes removed, and about half choose intensive breast surveillance and half choose risk-reducing mastectomies, estimates Hampel.
Where to go: For information on genetic testing or for help finding a healthcare professional trained in genetics, contact the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Information Service at 800-4-CANCER. To find a naturopathic doctor who specializes in oncology, check with the Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians at oncanp.org.