Genetic Counseling and Testing

Most breast cancer occurs by chance, without any indication that you may be at risk. But in 10 percent of breast cancer cases, the cancer is caused by an abnormal genetic mutation. The most common genes that cause breast cancer are BRCA1 and BRCA2: Two genes that we’re now able to test for with genetic testing.

Is Genetic Testing Right for You?

Breast cancer genetic testing is usually reserved for those we identify to be at a high risk for developing breast cancer. The criteria that we use to consider genetic testing are a personal or family history of:

  • Breast cancer at age 50 or younger
  • Ovarian cancer at any age
  • Male breast cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Triple-negative breast cancer
  • Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry with breast, ovarian, or pancreatic cancer
  • Two or more relatives with breast cancer, one under age 50
  • Three or more relatives with breast cancer at any age
  • A known BRCA genetic mutation in the family
  • Two primary breast cancers

Weighing Your Options

If you do test positive for BRCA1 or BRCA2, know that it isn’t guaranteed that breast cancer will develop, but you are at a much higher risk. The chance of developing breast cancer by age 70 is as high as 88 percent for those who inherited BRCA1, and about 45 percent for those who inherited BRCA2.

Just 12 percent of women in the general population will develop breast cancer at some point. The choice to seek genetic testing is a highly personal one that comes with many pros and cons you should consider.

Pros of Cancer Genetic Testing

  • Your test result is negative, despite having a family member with abnormal gene. This result allows you to know with greater certainty that you have the same risk of developing breast cancer as people in the general population.
  • Your test result is positive, giving you the chance to take steps to lower your risk of developing breast cancer or try to detect cancer early should it develop. Steps you can take include hormone therapy, preventive surgical removal of breasts, lifestyle and family planning changes, more frequent clinical exams and more.

Cons of Cancer Genetic Testing

  • Normal test results don’t guarantee that you have healthy genes. It’s possible that your family may have an inherited form of breast cancer caused by an abnormality or gene that we have yet to identify.
  • Removing the breasts to lower cancer risk doesn’t eliminate of every breast-related cell. Even though this surgery greatly lowers your risk, women with an abnormal breast cancer gene must still be monitored regularly.
  • Some women feel guilty or worried when learning they’ve passed on an abnormal gene to their children.
  • Some women worry about discrimination from insurance carriers or employers in the future based on genetic information.
  • Genetic testing may not answer all of your questions. Other factors that we may not quite understand yet could also contribute to a high risk.

Learn More

If you have questions about genetic testing offered at Saint Vincent Hospital, we encourage you to give us a call. Our genetic counselors can answer your questions and help you decide if testing is the right choice for you. Please contact the Saint Vincent Hospital Breast Center at (866) 494-3627.