Genetic testing can play an important role in both breast and ovarian cancer
prevention, but there are some myths about who is at the highest risk.
The bottom line? If you think you may be at an increased risk, talk to
your doctor. Testing is fairly easy, and knowing where you stand gives
you knowledge and, even better, options. Here are some of the common misconceptions
about genetics and breast cancer:
Myth #1: Most breast cancercases happen in women with a family history.
In reality, only about 5-10 percent of breast cancer cases are hereditary.
This is why mammograms are so important for women over 40. In addition
to a yearly screening, those who do have a strong family history of breast
and ovarian cancer can speak with their doctor about getting tested for
the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation. These mutations greatly increases the chances
of developing breast or ovarian cancer. If your family history raises
red flags, tell your doctor, and start the conversation about your own
The breast cancer is on my father’s side of the family, so there’s
nothing to worry about.
It’s easy to fall prey to this line of thought, but fathers actually
pass down the BRCA mutation at the same rate mothers do, so definitely
consider the cancer history on both the maternal and paternal sides of
Myth #3: If you have a mutation, you will automatically get cancer.
Of course not. But, most women who have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic mutation
are diagnosed with Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer syndrome, which
in turn means they have a 50-85% chance of developing breast cancer by
age 70 and a 40-60% risk of developing ovarian cancer by 85. In these
cases, there are still options to reduce their breast cancer risk, like
more frequent breast exams, early breast imaging and screening, and preventative
Myth #4: Men don’t have to worry about inherited breast cancer.
Men carry these mutations too, which means they could have an increased
risk of developing prostate cancer. Having a BRCA2 mutation also increases
a man’s risk of melanoma and pancreatic cancer, in addition to breast cancer.
Myth #5: I already have cancer so knowing my BRCA status won’t change anything.
Knowing your BRCA status opens the door to certain treatment options. Plus,
patients with a hereditary predisposition have a much higher risk of getting
a new primary cancer in another place. Genetic testing can also help let
your family members know about their own potential cancer risk.