Genetic testing helps with early breast cancer detection

Posted at 4:50 AM, Oct 14, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-14 04:56:23-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Nearly one in eight women will get breast cancer in their life and every 13 minutes one women is diagnosed with the disease.

About 300,000 men and women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year.

In fact, African-American women in the U.S. are 40% more likely to die from breast cancer than Caucasian women. It is the leading cause of death for Hispanic women.

During this Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we went to experts at Spectrum Health to see what steps we can take to be proactive.

"I do think more people getting testing," said Judy Hiemenga, MD, Clinical Genetics with Spectrum Health Hospitals.

With genetic testing, thousands of genes can be tested but two genes that stick out when it comes to breast cancer are BRCA1 and BRCA2, we all have these genes and they function as suppressor genes. Their role is to help prevent cancer. However, if you inherit a mutation in one or both this can increase your risk of cancer.

"For BRCA1 and 2 we have an increased risk of break cancer in women, a small risk of breast cancer in men, increased risk for ovarian cancer in women. then some other cancers might go along with it.  but the most significant: breast and ovary, prostate and male breast," she said.

So how do BRCA mutations get passed on?

"When we have children, if we have one BRCA gene mutation we have a 50/50 chance of passing it on," Hiemenga said.

"If you have an inherited gene mutation you’re certainly predisposed to certain cancers but it doesn’t mean you’re going to get it and it means we can screen for that," she said.

As it turns out, most women who get breast cancer don't have a BRCA1 or 2 gene mutation.

"If you got a BRCA1 or two gene mutation let’s say your risks are up here, she said. "If you do not have any breast cancer related gene mutation, but have a family history of breast cancer, your risks may be about here or if you have no gene mutation no family history your risk is probably down here. but as long as we’re alive we can get breast cancer, women more than men," she said.

But if you do test positive there are steps you can take reduce your chances besides just high risk screenings because while breast cancers related to those mutations are mostly treated the same way than any other breast cancer, certain drugs or surgery may be more effective.

"In the U.S. women tend to be more proactive and a lot of them will consider risk reducing surgery," Hiemenga said.

"They can do the close screening plus estrogen blocking drugs,  different drugs reduce the risk of estrogen from stimulating breast cancer cells from growing and precancerous cells from growing."

And if a mastectomy or hysterectomy isn't right for you there are other steps we can take in preventing cancer.

"We know fats and red meat greater risk of breast cancer, stomach cancer, colon cancer. alcohol intake, two or three drinks a week or more greater risk of breast cancer. regular exercise, healthy weight, balanced diet, those are things you can do," Hiemenga said.

If you are wondering about the accuracy of an at-home DNA test, doctors say you should reach out to a medical professional because although it may be accurate they don't have the same guidelines and criteria for reporting.