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Breast Cancer

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Some family cancer patterns suggest that perhaps one’s risk for breast cancer can be at higher than average risk. These patients may be referred to a certified genetic counselor if they are felt to be at risk for having a gene change that increases the risk for breast cancer. Gene changes can be passed down from a mother or father to daughters and sons and certain gene changes can increase the risk of cancer in a family.

At the genetic counseling visit, the genetic counselor will obtain a careful personal medical and detailed family medical history. He or she will determine whether or not genetic testing is appropriate and which genetic changes to assess. Two of the most well know examples are the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, the most common genes associated with inherited breast cancer risk. Genetic testing involves a blood test. The test results are typically known in a few weeks.

Genetic counseling and testing might also be used to determine if a woman already diagnosed with breast cancer is at an increased risk for a second breast cancer or other types of cancer. Genetic counseling and testing can also be helpful in making recommendations for other at-risk family members.

For some women, the benefits of genetic counseling and testing include the ability to make medical and lifestyle decisions while reducing the anxiety of not knowing their genetic background. Another benefit is the ability to make a proactive decision regarding prophylactic surgery and chemoprevention.

Who should consider genetic counseling?

  • Breast cancer diagnosed at age 50 or younger
  • Triple negative breast cancer
  • 1 or more close relatives with breast cancer before age 50
  • Personal or family history of ovarian cancer at any age
  • 2 or more close relatives with breast and/or pancreatic cancer
  • 1 or more close relatives with male breast cancer
  • Family member with a known genetic mutation
  • Family cancer patterns that demonstrate breast, ovarian, colon, uterine, thyroid or other cancer before 50
  • History of having 10 or more colon polyps
  • History of multiple cancers
  • Ashkenazi Jewish descent

Here are some questions to consider when thinking about genetic counseling

  • What are my goals for genetic counseling?
  • Would I like to attend my genetic counseling appointment on my own, or would I like a friend or loved one with me to listen?
  • What questions do I have about genetic testing? What are my goals for genetic testing?
  • What is the cost of genetic testing? Will my insurance cover it?

Note: In 2008, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) took effect. This act prevents employers and health insurers from penalizing individuals when genetic testing reveals information regarding an individual's health.


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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 2/10/2014...#9002

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