What do I need to know about the genetic risk of breast cancer? - Latest news • Breast Cancer Foundation NZ

What do I need to know about the genetic risk of breast cancer?

Over the past few decades our understanding of the human genome has dramatically grown - we now have a continuously increasing library of disease-linked genes. Using this library we can discover if someone carries a certain genetic trait associated with a higher risk of breast cancer.

Inherited risk accounts for around 10% of all diagnosed breast cancers. If you do find that you’re at a higher risk of breast cancer you can take precautionary actions which are likely to prevent breast cancer from developing.

So, does breast or ovarian cancer run in your family? It’s important to initiate these conversations and don't restrict them to just females. The inherited risk of breast cancer can also be carried through the male side of your family. This is something that is often forgotten.

If you do have a concern about inherited risk – what step should you take next?

You should speak to your GP, or one of our BCFNZ nurses, who may refer you to a genetic counsellor. The genetic counsellor will then determine whether you should have genetic testing. After testing you may find you have tested positive for a gene associated with breast cancer. Your result will spark further discussion and maybe some big personal decisions. These decisions may involve other family members but a genetic counsellor is trained to support you through this process.

You may have heard of BRCA1/BRCA2 – mutations in these genes are the most well-known and researched. They are also pretty famous – thanks to a certain Angelina Jolie. However, there are other genes, which if mutated or abnormal, can also lead to an increased risk of breast cancer. These include PALB2, PTEN and TP53 among others. As our knowledge of breast cancer linked genes grows – more people will have the opportunity to take preventative action.

You may have seen advertising online for direct-to-consumer DNA testing. These tests can be delivered straight to your door. However, be cautious! The data gathered from these tests is not suitable for medical or diagnostic use. So – if you do feel as though you wish to get tested follow the proper protocol.

To find out more you can watch our latest webinar: Genetic Risk of Breast Cancer, or ring our 0800 BCNURSE line. If you already have a confirmed mutation, you may also want to take a look at the New Zealand Familial Breast Cancer Study.

The field of genetics is expanding and holds a very promising future. If you are tested positive for a gene associated with an increased risk of breast cancer you now have the power to make an informed decision.