How Genetic Testing Can Help You Prevent Breast Cancer

If you could lower your risk of breast cancer, would you?

1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. Taking the steps to be the 7 in 8 who are cancer-free can involve more than just your yearly mammogram.

Genes that can impact your risk for breast cancer


Hereditary cancer testing looks for variants in your genes that increase the risk for breast cancer, among many other types of cancer as well. Many people know about BRCA1 and BRCA2, the two most common genes that affect your breast cancer risk, but fewer know that there are several other genes that can also impact your risk. In fact, if you only test for BRCA1 and BRCA2, over 50% of the genes that could impact your risk are being missed.

You might think that discovering you have an increased risk for cancer is scary but knowing about your variant puts the power into your hands and into the hands of your doctor. If you have a pathogenic variant, your doctor can curate a risk management plan specifically to you. This management plan could include more frequent mammograms or breast MRIs, clinical breast exams, and the options of risk-reducing surgery or medications.

Not only is hereditary cancer screening valuable to your own health, it can also be valuable to your family members. If you have a variant that increases your risk for any kind of cancer, it is possible that your family members could also share that variant and should consider being tested.

Research published in Surgical Oncology in 2012 estimates that 80 to 90 percent of men and women who carry BRCA variants have not been tested. That means roughly 800,000-plus people in the United States have no idea that they carry a very high risk of cancer that could be prevented or caught early if they took proactive measures.

If you have a family history of breast cancer that meets any of the following criteria, it is possible that your family could carry a risk-increasing variant and you may want to consider hereditary cancer screening for breast cancer:

  • A relative who had cancer before the age of 50
  • Multiple relatives with breast, ovarian, pancreatic, or prostate cancer
  • A relative with male breast cancer
  • A relative with triple negative breast cancer
  • A family member with a known variant in BRCA1 or BRCA2

Drohan, B., Roche, C. A., Cusack, J. C., & Hughes, K. S. (2012, June). Hereditary breast and ovarian cancer and other hereditary syndromes: Using technology to identify carriers. Annals of Surgical Oncology, 19(6), 1732-1737.