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The BRCAs of Breast Cancer

When it comes to reducing your risk for breast cancer, some things are easier to control than others. We’ve been told that a healthy diet, regular exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight can help reduce our risk. But other factors such as family history or genetic risk factors can’t be changed.

BRCAs of Breast CancerThe most common cause of hereditary breast cancer is an inherited mutation in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes,” according to the American Cancer Society. “If you have inherited a mutated copy of either gene from a parent, you have a high risk of developing breast cancer during your lifetime.”

Studies show women with a BRCA mutation are five times more likely to develop breast cancer, and because they may not display any symptoms, the only way to know if they have a gene mutation is to get tested.

Women should consider BRCA testing if they have a personal or family medical history that includes:

  • Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry
  • breast cancer diagnosed at age 50 or younger
  • family members with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation
  • ovarian cancer at any age
  • pancreatic cancer and breast or ovarian cancer that occurred together
  • two incidents of breast cancer that occurred on the same side of the family

A Nearby Resource

Dr. Beth Sieling and Dr. Nicole Sookhan offer BRCA testing for their patients at The Breast and Oncology Center, an affiliate of Saint Mary’s Hospital with locations in Southbury and Prospect.

Prior to undergoing BRCA testing, patients are counseled extensively on the process. Dr. Sieling and Dr. Sookhan explain the risks associated with a BRCA mutation, the implications of a positive or negative test result, and options available to patients who do test positive for one of the genes. Learning the outcome of a BRCA test can be emotional, but understanding the ramifications prior to testing can help patients cope with the results successfully.

To learn more about BRCA testing, visit the Breast Surgery page.

Knowledge Is Power

For individuals who test positive for BRCA1 or BRCA2, this awareness can be lifesaving for both themselves and their family members. “A woman who carries the BRCA mutation has an 87 percent risk of developing breast cancer and a 44 percent risk of developing ovarian cancer,” said Dr. Nicole Sookhan, Surgical Breast Specialist at the Breast and Oncology Center in Prospect. “Most women who test positive are empowered to let their relatives know about their result so preventive measures can be taken.”

Experts recommend three potential routes for BRCApositive patients.

  1. Increased surveillance, including self and clinical breast exams, mammograms, and MRIs.
  2. Surveillance coupled with chemoprevention. Certain drugs can reduce the risk of developing breast cancer by as much as 50 percent.
  3. Preventive surgery, such as a bilateral mastectomy, with optional reconstruction.

“The choice of next steps following a BRCA mutation diagnosis is very personal, and it is our job to help patients understand the risks and benefits of their options, so they may select the best choice for them,”
said Dr. Beth Sieling, Surgical Breast Specialist at the Breast and Oncology Center in Southbury. “Our goal is to keep patients focused on the benefits of the knowledge these test results provide.”