With the recent news that Angelina Jolie had opted for a double mastectomy to reduce her risk of contracting breast cancer, there’s been a lot of attention focused on the breast cancer susceptibility gene (BRCA) that caused Jolie to take such a drastic action.
This gene is responsible for approximately 5 percent of breast cancer cases in America. Though the overwhelming majority of cases diagnosed are not associated with BRCA1 or BRCA2, the risk is still present. Before you go to your doctor to request a BRCA genetic test, here a few things to know:
Cancer is disease resulting from a gene that has gotten out of control. Genes tell the cells what to do, specifically what type of protein to create. The breast cancer susceptibility genes (BRCA1 & BRCA2) are codes for proteins that help to maintain the stability of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid).
BRCA1 is associated with increased risk of breast, cervical, uterine, colon, and pancreatic cancers. BRCA2 is associated with increased risk of ovarian, pancreatic, bile duct, gallbladder, and stomach cancers.
Men can also be affected with male breast cancer from these genes. Additionally, BRCA1 in men is associated with increased risk of testicular cancer, and BRCA2 is associated with increased risk of prostate cancer.
Not everyone needs BRCA genetic testing. Only people who have a strong family history for breast and ovarian cancer should be tested for BRCA. If you have a sister, mother, or aunt who was diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer before menopause or a brother, father or uncle who was diagnosed with breast cancer, then discuss this with your physician. Remember, an association is not a definite diagnosis, so speak with your doctor to determine risk factors prior to genetic testing. If you do not know your family history, then it may be reasonable to have the BRCA test.Dr. Morris
Routine breast self-exam and mammography remain the best ways to screen for breast cancer. Make it your mission to regularly schedule your annual mammogram starting at age 40, or earlier if you have a family history; remind your sisters, friends, and family to do the same. Though Breast Cancer Awareness Month isn’t until October, health awareness is necessary year round and can be the difference between life and death.
Sylvia E. Morris, MD, MPH, is a board-certified physician in internal medicine and holistic medicine. In addition to her clinical practice, she is a community health advocate as well as a medical consultant and commentator for media outlets such as The Weather Channel, Atlanta Fox 5 News, and CNN.com. Tell her what you think on Facebookand follow her on Twitter.