Like many cancers, breast cancer is proving to have a strong genetic component — meaning that family genetic history may in some cases provide an indication of an individual's likelihood of developing certain forms of breast cancer.
Two specific genes known as BRCA1 and BRCA2 play an important role in preventing breast and ovarian cancers. Normally, they act as brakes that help stop abnormal cell growth. Alterations and mutations can occur in these BRCA genes, however. When this happens, the genes do not work as they should, and there is a loss of control over cell growth. Some cells start to grow abnormally fast, and cancer may develop.
New technologies are making it possible to test for these factors before any cancer develops. BRCA analysis is conducted through a blood test that can detect changes in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic codes. This BRCA analysis is not like a mammogram or other screening test intended for the general population. Instead, it's specifically used with individuals thought to be at high risk for breast or ovarian cancer — due to family history or because they developed breast cancer before the age of 50, or ovarian cancer at any age.
BRCA tests are not preventive, but some people — particularly those with strong family histories of breast, ovarian and other cancers — find that they are helpful ways to understand and assess risks, and make future health care choices.
To make an appointment to discuss genetic testing with a counselor at the Methodist Breast Center, call 713.441.PINK.