Genetic Education and Testing

Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer: Are You at Risk?

If breast and ovarian cancer are in your family history, you may have a genetic mutation that increases your risk for these forms of cancer. The Scripps Polster Breast Care Center offers educational resources on identifying and managing hereditary breast and ovarian cancer, and assistance in the testing process.

If have experienced any of the following in your health history, you may be interested in learning more about what you can do to lower your risk:

  • Diagnosis of breast cancer before age 50
  • Multiple cancer diagnoses
  • One or more family members with ovarian cancer (any age)
  • Two or more family members with breast cancer, diagnosed before age 50
  • Male relative diagnosed with breast cancer
  • One or more family members with breast cancer diagnosed before age 50 and Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry
  • Known BRCA1/BRCA2 mutation in the family

Genetic testing

A blood test can determine whether you have a BRCA1 or BRAC2 gene mutation, which are responsible for approximately 5 percent of all breast and ovarian cancers diagnosed. Women with BRCA mutations have:

  • Approximately an 87 percent chance of developing breast cancer, and approximately a 44 percent chance of developing ovarian cancer by age 70
  • A higher risk of developing secondary cancers

Genetic information can help you and your health care providers manage your health care needs more effectively. Many insurance plans cover a large portion of the cost of this test. It is important to know that the Federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 prohibits health insurance discrimination based on genetic information.

Next steps

Women who carry a mutation in the BRCA gene are encouraged to talk to their physicians or medical providers about ways to reduce their risk.

Recommendations may include:

  • Increased surveillance — Monthly and annual clinical breast exams, , transvaginal ultrasound and CA 125 blood tests.
  • Preventive drug therapy — For women who carry the BRCA mutation, Tamoxifen has been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer and oral contraceptives have been shown to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer.
  • Preventive surgery — Prophylactic mastectomy can significantly reduce the risk of breast cancer, and prophylactic oophorectomy (removal of ovaries and fallopian tubes) reduces the risk of ovarian cancer and may reduce the risk of breast cancer in women who carry BRCA mutations.

Knowing your risk and doing everything you can to lower it could make a big difference for you, your family and future medical management choices.