You may have heard in recent news celebrity Sharon Osbourne’s discussion of her breast cancer risk and her decision to undergo surgery. How did she and her doctor come to this decision? Ms. Osbourne, judge on America’s Got Talent and wife of Ozzy Osbourne, announced that she carries a gene that is known to significantly increase her breast and ovarian cancer risk.
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.
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 twofirst-degree relatives (mother, daughter, or sister) diagnosed with breast cancer, if one was diagnosed before age 50. The blood test also benefits women with three first or second-degree (grandmother or aunt) family members who have had breast cancer, regardless of their age, and women who have both ovarian and breast cancer diagnoses among these relatives. (Click here for a more comprehensive description of risk groups). 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 your gene test is negative, your physician may consider additional screening such as pelvic, ovarian ultrasound, a CA125 blood test, or breast MRI, depending on your age, medical and family history. 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.