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Genetic testing for inherited breast cancer

Published On: Sep 26 2013 03:06:43 PM CDT   Updated On: Sep 26 2013 03:17:02 PM CDT
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By Mayo Clinic News Network

One out of eight women will get breast cancer in her lifetime and a small subset actually have an inherited copy of a gene that can greatly increase their risk.

The news that actress Angelina Jolie chose to have a double mastectomy because of her high breast cancer risk is creating conversations about genetic risk.  

Mary Holm's sister Debbie lost her battle with breast cancer when she was just 30 years old. She was diagnosed at age 28.

She was five months pregnant with her third child and she noticed a lump in her chest. Because Debbie was so young, Mary's family did a little research and found out some people on her dad's side of the family carried a breast cancer gene.

"So we went ahead and got her tested and she was BRCA-1 positive. Then I was tested and I was the same," Holm said.

While there is a myth that you can only get the breast cancer gene from your mother's side, singular genetics counselor Maegan Roberts says that's not true. There are two known breast cancer genes that can run on either side of your family. And they increase a woman's risk of breast cancer by about 80 percent and your risk of ovarian cancer by about 40 percent.

The question is, if it runs in your family, should you get tested?

"I tend to think about it in terms of knowledge. Having the knowledge is power. Once you know that you have the mutation, and you know you have a certain risk, you can take steps proactively to find things quicker, at an earlier, more treatable stage. Or you can inform your family so they can take steps to protect themselves as well," Dr. Stephanie Hines, Mayo Clinic Internal Medicine, says.


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