Some Breast Cancer Patients and Relatives Choose Genetic Testing

November 2, 2009

clinical excellenceIf a person knows she has a 90 percent risk of developing breast cancer, she has some important decisions to make. Should she start screenings at a younger age? Should she have preventive surgery? That kind of knowledge gives patients difficult but potentially life-saving options, and that’s why the Cancer Center of Indiana offers genetic testing to high-risk patients.

breast cancer chart

Yasoda Dev, MD, a medical oncologist and hematologist with the Cancer Center of Indiana, explained, “A genetic mutation has been found to be a strong predictor of cancer of the breast and ovary. Not all cancers are caused by a genetic abnormality. But if a person is diagnosed with breast cancer under the age of 50 or when two or more relatives on the same side have the same type of cancer, genetic testing is suggested.”

Dr. Dev continued, “A breast cancer patient can choose whether to have the test done. If no genetic abnormality is found, there is no need for their family members to be tested. However, if the person does have the mutation, testing may be offered to their close relatives.”

A Simple Test

Dev“The most accurate method of diagnosing hereditary cancer risk is genetic testing. If the result is positive, patients can talk to their doctor about their options before it’s too late.”

Yasoda Dev, MD
Medical Oncologist and Hematologist
Cancer Center of Indiana

The test on a patient’s relative is conducted by a simple blood draw. If the mutation is found to be present, there is a 90 percent chance that the patient will develop the cancer as well, Dr. Dev noted. In some Jewish populations, the risk is nearly 100 percent.

Dr. Dev cited one recent example of a woman with breast cancer who tested positive for the mutation. Her adult daughter also tested positive and decided to have preventive surgery to remove her breasts and ovaries. However, the woman’s granddaughter tested negative for the mutation.

However, even with no genetic abnormality, a family history still predicts a higher risk than normal, Dr. Dev said.
And when there are no known cases in the family, a person should still follow the accepted guidelines for prevention and early detection. “ In fact, the vast majority of breast cancer cases occur in people with no family history of the disease. We are still learning a lot about genes,” she noted.

actionFor more information about genetic testing available at the Cancer Center of Indiana, call Melissa Hoehn at 812-945-4000 x107

Catching Breast Cancer Early

• The earlier that breast cancer is detected, the higher the survival rate.
• Women with a higher risk of breast cancer should talk with their doctor about the best approach for them, which might include starting mammograms at a younger age, extra testing or more frequent exams.

The American Cancer Society recommends the following guidelines for the early detection of breast cancer in women
without symptoms:

• Mammogram: Women age 40 and older should have a screening mammogram every year.
• Clinical breast exam: Beginning in their 20s, women should have a clinical breast exam as part of a regular exam
by a health expert, at least every three years.
• Breast self-exam: Starting in their 20s, women should be told about the benefits and limitations of self exams.
Always report any changes in how breasts look or feel to your health professional right away.

actionTo schedule your yearly digital mammogram, call the Women’s Imaging Center today at 812-949-7799