October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month! Although most breast and ovarian cancers are sporadic—meaning they do not appear to be hereditary—women who carry genes known as BRCA1 and BRCA2 have a much greater risk of developing these cancers. At your annual well-woman exam, your physician will review the family history you provide. Your “new patient” or “return visit” forms ask you to provide or update your family . We offer genetic testing when appropriate based on your risk factors.
Should I be tested for the cancer genes?Your Ob-Gyn bases the decision whether to test on your family history of these cancers. Gene testing is beneficial for women who have two first-degree relatives (parents, brothers, sisters, children) diagnosed with breast cancer, if one was diagnosed before age 50. The blood test also benefits women with three first or second-degree family members (aunts, uncles, grandparents, nieces, nephews, grandchildren) ) who have had breast cancer, regardless of their age, and women who have both ovarian and breast cancer diagnoses among these relatives. We DO want to consider BOTH your male and female family members. Having a male family member with a history of breast or prostate cancer may increase your risk. If your family history puts you in one of these groups, your physician may discuss with you the option of testing for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.
Can anything else be done to detect these cancers early? Even if you do not receive genetic testing or if your gene test is negative, your physician may consider additional screening. If your personal and family history place you at a higher risk for developing breast cancer, you might be a candidate for breast MRI. This additional test improves breast cancer detection in high-risk patients. And all women, regardless of their genetic history, should follow recommendations for screening mammograms. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends annual mammograms beginning at age 40. For women with a family history, your doctor may recommend a first mammogram before age 40.
IMPORTANT! At each annual exam, inform your OB-GYN of any changes in your family history.