If one of your close family members has been diagnosed with breast cancer you may be quite concerned about the chance of yourself receiving the same diagnosis in the future. Read ahead to find out if breast cancer is inherited and what you can do about it.
What is breast cancer?
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in Australia. It is the abnormal growth of the cells that line the breasts; these cells can grow uncontrollably and spread to other areas of the body if not caught in time. Although breast cancer is mostly associated with women, men can also develop this disease too. The risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer by age 85 is 1 in 8 for women and 1 in 631 for men and the overall 5year survival rates breast cancer is actually quite high at 90%, if the cancer has not spread from the breast then it rises to 96% yet if it has spread to the lymph nodes it lowers to 80%.
Breast cancer and genes
The biggest fear when it comes to developing breast cancer is when a close family member gets the diagnosis, as most people realise that they too may develop hereditary breast cancer. Unfortunately this may be true for some, as breast cancer can be inherited but this happens in only a small 5-10% of breast cancer diagnosis. Hereditary means that it is passed through certain gene mutations from either your mother or fathers side. The most common hereditary gene mutations for breast cancer are BRCA1 and BRCA2 although there are also a few other mutations that can also cause breast cancer but these are far less common.
If you have a family history of breast cancer you could possibly have a gene mutation that is being passed down, now I know that this sounds scary and this gene does significantly increase your risk of developing breast cancer to 30-60%, but not everyone with this gene mutation actually develops this disease. There are also a number of other lifestyle factors that can influence whether you develop breast cancer or not.
Other risk factors
A risk factor is anything that may increase your chance of developing breast cancer. While most risk factors can influence a person’s development of cancer, most risk factors do not directly cause breast cancer. It is important to know that not everyone with risk factors will develop cancer, and that some people with no known risk factors may unfortunately still be diagnosed with cancer. By understanding your risk factors you can learn how to make changes to your lifestyle and how to keep your health.
Risk factors for breast cancer include:
- Age- most breast cancers are found in women who are over the age of 50.
- Personal history of breast cancer- if you have previously had breast cancer then your chance of getting it in the other breast is higher.
- Family history of breast cancer.
- Exposure to female hormones
- Unhealthy diet
- High alcohol consumption.
- Family history of ovarian cancer
- If you are a smoker
What should I do if I have a family history of breast cancer?
If you do happen to have a family history of breast cancer then you can do a simple blood test that screens for the genetic mutation. This DNA sample is searched for a fault in the genes which can take a while to get results back; if a previous family member has been tested the results will be much quicker as they simply search for the same fault.
All women who have the breast cancer gene mutation should have regular breast check-ups including mammograms and should discuss options and prevention methods with their DR.
While there is no proven prevention method as yet, you can greatly reduce your risk by lowering alcohol intake and by maintaining a healthy weight.
Women with a strong family history of breast cancer may benefit from hormone treatment such as tamoxifen which is usually administered over 5 years. Another option is a mastectomy, which is complete removal of all breast tissue.
While it can be inherited it’s not a definite diagnosis, if you think you are at risk of breast cancer then speak with your DR today, prevention and early detection are key!