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pregnant-690735_640Geraldine got her mammogram every year. Her first grandchild was born six years ago she wasn’t going to miss a second of her grandbaby’s life, although, the baby’s mom, Laura, had something to say about that. Geraldine just knew that her grandbaby was God’s gift to her or raising Laura, her daughter, right. And Geraldine wanted to be there for her daughter and to play with her grandbaby. So she got her mammogram every year.

Well, this year they found a small, 0.7cm nodule, which proved to be a Triple Negative Breast Cancer. Geraldine was worried. Laura was worried. Was this breast cancer genetic? Geraldine wanted to know if Laura was going to get breast cancer. Laura wanted to know if her baby was going to get cancer one day.

Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Week is September 25 – October 1 and Previvor Day is September 28, 2016.

Approximately one in six breast cancers is a genetic mutation. But in women less than 60, like Geraldine, who have a Triple Negative Breast Cancer, one in ten will be a genetic mutation.

What is a genetic mutation?

Our genes are made up of DNA. Our genes are the directions; the blueprints our body uses to live. Everything in our body was made based on the directions in our genes. When the genes mutated, the gene has a wrong direction. Sometimes, the mutation does not mean anything. For instance, take the word breast. If we spell breast, “breest,” we still know what the word means and this mutation is of little, if any significance. However, if we spell breast as beast, then the word has a completely different meaning. This is a deleterious (bad) mutation. If our gene has a deleterious (bad) mutation, then our body is not producing something it needs or it is producing a malfunctioning product. In the case of the BRCA gene, a malfunctioning BRCA gene can lead to breast or ovarian cancer in up to 86% of women who have the mutation.

But today, we are aware that it not just an abnormal BRCA gene that can cause breast cancer. There are as many as 8-10 genes that can cause breast cancer. So if you are at risk for having a breast cancer that was caused by a deleterious (bad) gene, then you should be tested. Today, we do a panel test, meaning we do not just test for BRCA but test for 8-10 genes. And because there is no additional cost to test for other cancer genes, we now test for a whole panel of cancer genes. Many companies offer these panels. In my office, we believe in the integrity of Myriad and so we generally order myRisk, but insurance companies may dictate the use of other companies and their panels.

The National Cancer Center Network offers recommendations on who should be tested. You can also ask you oncologist or breast surgeon. Testing will usually require a visit to a genetic counselor or someone trained to counsel you properly, such as Imelda, who is a Nurse Practitioner with special training and experience in cancer genetics.