How does Genetic Testing help with Breast Cancer? 

Summary: Do you need a genetic test to show if you have or will end up with breast cancer? Genetic testing is now done on a variety of fronts, including mail-in service that patients can do on their own time. These results can often highlight still silent medical crisis or explain the long-term undiagnosed issues people face. Those women who have had or are still fighting against breast cancer should have genetic testing done to help scientists and researchers link more genes to specific types of cancer. Here you can read about genetic testing, the pros and cons of it, and how it can affect the lives of those living with a risk of cancer.

In recent studies, certain genetic traits have been linked to certain types of breast cancer. Most commonly connected to the BRCA1, BRCA2, and the PALB2 gene mutations, there are many new genetic markers being discovered that have proven linkable to breast and other types of cancer. It is estimated that nearly one out of every four-hundred people will have this, or another, mutated gene that could heighten their risk for cancer.

While this known risk can help to catch breast cancer in its earliest stages, genetic testing is not a mandatory step in diagnosing breast cancer or other cancers. Doctor Banu Arun, a professor at the Breast Cancer Medical Oncology and Clinical Cancer Prevention center states, “being able to identify if you’re at increased risk for breast cancer because of your family history is extremely powerful. If your chances for developing this cancer is higher, you have options to reduce those chances by up to ninety-five percent. Lifestyle changes can make a world of difference in the development of cancer.” That said, only ten percent of cancer cases are related to a patients’ genetics, according to Arun.

Understand your Family’s Medical History

To begin, understand your risk for inherited breast cancer by mapping out your family’s cancer and medical history. This can be a tedious and time-consuming process but will be beneficial to all people in your bloodline. Begin by noting these factors to determine if you have an increased risk for breast cancer:

  • You had breast cancer before age fifty.
  • You had high grade serous ovarian cancer.
  • You had breast and high grade serous ovarian cancer.
  • You have relatives with breast, ovarian, pancreatic or prostate cancer.
  • Any men in your family had breast cancer.
  • You are of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry.
  • A family member has a BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic mutation.
  • You or a family member has the gene mutation PALB2.

If you are unable to map your family’s medical history or you are an adoptee who was not informed of their maternal and paternal medical history, you should consider having genetic testing done to help boost your research and understanding.

Doctor Health Discussions

When it is time to discuss your findings, or lack thereof, contact your doctor and take your complete family history form or file with you to your appointment. This will allow you to show and tell the doctor which aspects of your history have you worried, and which you should be concerned about. If your doctor sees any red flags, he can then advise you on how to lower your risk. For some who have complicated genetic testing findings, they may be advised to seek out a genetic counselor, who can better address their comprehensive results and inherited cancer risks.

Understanding the Genes linked to Breast Cancer

If you find out that you have a family member with a gene linked to breast cancer, like the BRCA or PALB genes, do not panic. Most of the breast cancer cases diagnosed are not genetic. That said, if you do have genetic testing and find out that you have the gene, you should understand what it means.

  • Many women who have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic mutation are also diagnosed with Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer syndrome. This is often called HBOC syndrome. Having both of these means that you have up to an eighty-seven percent chance of developing breast cancer in your lifetime.
  • For women with HBOC, they must be screened at least once per year, for life, and:
  • At age 25 to 29: annual breast MRI
  • Over age 30: annual mammograms and breast MRI, alternating one or the other every six months
  • Those seeking preventative measures may decide to have surgery to remove their breasts, or prophylactic bilateral mastectomy, to reduce their risk even further. This is a very aggressive approach, but many women choose this path as it reduces their risk by nearly ninety-five percent.

The Pros and Cons of Genetic Testing

By finding out that you have genetic mutations, whether it be for breast cancer, cancer in the body, or different long-term illnesses, knowing what you may face in your lifetime can be beneficial in helping you to avoid them altogether. Your genetic testing results will not only benefit you, but also anyone in your bloodline. This test could also be a light to predict a family member’s future cancer, as well. Genetic testing is a very personal decision that gives you the insight into your medical longevity.

The cons of genetic testing must be weighed by the knowledge the patient wants to learn. Genetic testing is not a full-body review, nor are the results targeted or specific. These tests can be very costly, especially the more specific testing. Insurance companies do not always cover these tests, unless there is a true medical connection or reason. Another con to genetic testing is not being ready to deal with the emotions that come from learning what you are predispositioned to be stricken with in your lifetime. Seeing these “crystal ball” readings can trigger heavy feelings and emotions for many individuals.

Genetic Testing if you Already have Breast Cancer

Many specialists, oncologists and doctors are asking that women who have, or have had, breast cancer step up to have genetic testing done. Not only does this enlighten and empower the women with their medical longevity, but also allows genetic counselors and scientists to link more specific genes to different kinds of breast and body cancer.

If you are struggling through breast cancer and need guidance or support, do not hesitate to contact our Reclaiming Intimacy Through H.O.P.E. team! We offer a wide variety of therapeutic aids to help ease pain and discomfort, and many other items geared towards the feminine issues that breast cancer brings.

Resources Used:

Breast Cancer USA


Reclaiming Intimacy

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