How Genetics and Family History Affect Your Chances of Getting Breast Cancer

How Genetics and Family History Affect Your Chances of Getting Breast Cancer

How Genetics and Family History Affect Your Chances of Getting Breast Cancer

In the United States, it is estimated that around 242,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year. Out of this, 3% of the women have inherited it from their family members as a result of mutation of BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Although there are various breast cancer risk factors , genetic mutation is considered to be the primary cause.

What are BRCA1 and BRCA2?

BRCA1 and BRCA2 are human genes that produce a certain protein which is capable of suppressing tumors. These proteins repair the DNA whenever they are damaged and maintains its stability. In some situations, however, these genes are altered or mutated, and the protein cannot perform its proper function. When this happens, additional genetic alterations are made by the cells which result in the growth of cancer.

If a person has inherited mutated BRCA1 and BRCA2, then it increases the chance for breast cancer. Those who have inherited mutated BRCA1 and BRCA2 tend to develop breast cancer at a younger age than those who have not inherited such genes. BRCA gene test is done to determine whether or not a person has inherited mutated genes.

From whom can you inherit breast cancer?

You can inherit breast cancer from both your mother and father and families on both sides. This includes grandparents, uncles, aunts, and nephews from both sides as well as brothers and sisters.

Once you reach 30 years of age, you should evaluate your risk of developing breast cancer. This risk is more if any of the above-mentioned persons are diagnosed with breast cancer. They should get an MRI and mammogram done every year until the age of 55.

What should you do if there is a family history?

If any of your family members have been diagnosed with breast cancer, then you should tell your doctor. In such a case, your doctor may ask you to undergo genetic counseling under a trained genetic counselor.

The genetic counselor will examine your family history and recommend a BRCA genetic testing to determine whether or not there is any mutation. The counselor will also inform you about the pros and cons of the testing and what the result can mean for you.

Self-examination is the best way to detect any lumps or swelling on the breast that can later develop into cancerous tumors.

How to do a self-examination of the breast?

There is no particular timeline to start self-examination of the breast , but earlier is best.

Self-examination of breasts helps spot breast cancer symptoms at an early stage and in getting proper treatment. This, when combined with other screening tools like mammography and ultrasound scan, is very effective in diagnosing and treating cancer at an early stage.

Let us have a look at breast self-exam guidelines to follow for a successful test.

1. Inspect the breast

Stand half naked in front of the mirror with your hands on your hips and examine the breast carefully. You should look for any unusual shape, size or color in the breast.

Consult your doctor if you notice any bulging or dimpling of the skin, an inverted nipple, or redness or swelling on the breast.

Now raise your hands, and look for any of the above signs. You should also check whether or not any fluid comes out of the nipple.

2.  Examine the breast

The best time to examine the breast is while bathing. The skin will be wet and slippery, and it will be easy for your hand to glide over your breast.

First, raise your right hand and using your left hand examine your right breast. Similarly, raise the left hand and examine your left breast as well. Use three or four fingers of your hand and go in a circular motion. You should examine the entire breast from side to side, top to bottom, and even your armpit for any lump or swelling. Follow a pattern, and make sure that you do not miss any area of the breast.

Most women will have some lumps in the breast which is caused as a result of hormonal changes. These are benign, and you do not have to worry about the same. If a lump seems to grow or become more prominent, then consult you doctor.

How to reduce the risk of developing breast cancer?

Even when you fall under the high-risk category for developing breast cancer, you can reduce the actual risk by making a few changes in your lifestyle . This includes restricting alcohol consumption. Alcohol consumption should be restricted to one drink a day. This is particularly important for those women who have not become pregnant.

You should also quit smoking. Women, especially pre-menopausal women, who are at high risk of developing breast cancer should completely quit smoking.

Try to stay physically active, because this can reduce your risk of developing breast cancer. 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise daily like push-ups and leg lifts can help reduce the incidence of breast cancer. Also, try to maintain your weight at an optimal level to reduce the risk of developing cancer.  

Lastly, avoid hormone supplements. Hormone supplements like estrogen and progesterone tablets, when used for an extended time, can increase your chance of developing breast cancer.

For more information

Prevention is better than cure. If breast cancer runs in your family or if you want more information about breast cancer, then contact The Woman’s Clinic today to learn how to prevent it.