Dispelling the Myths
There are many misconceptions about the causes of breast cancer, genetic testing for breast cancer, and how inherited factors do or do not affect your risk. Here are some of the most common myths and the facts to clear them up.
MYTH: MOST BREAST CANCERS ARE LINKED TO INHERITED (GENETIC) FACTORS.
Actually, only about 5% to 10% of all breast cancers are thought to be caused by an inherited genetic mutation. This means that 90% to 95% of breast cancers are caused by other risk factors – many of which we can’t even identify. The important point to remember is that all women are at some risk, and if you have a family history, you may be at increased risk.
MYTH: EVERY WOMAN WITH AN INHERITED BRCA GENE MUTATION DEVELOPS BREAST CANCER
If you have a BRCA gene mutation, your risk for breast cancer is much higher than the risk of the average woman. But it’s not 100%. It’s more like 60% to 80% — which means you have a 20% to 40% chance of NOT developing breast cancer. The risk numbers are high. But there are actions you can take to lower the risk significantly
MYTH: MEN DON’T NEED TO GET GENETIC TESTING.
Actually, it’s a good idea for men as well as women to consider genetic testing if there’s a family history that suggests increased inherited risk. It’s important for their kids, and also for their own health. Men with BRCA mutations have increased risk for male breast cancer and prostate cancer. Also, some families with BRCA mutations have risks for other cancers, including pancreatic, stomach and melanoma. Your cancer risk healthcare provider may add additional screening for the men in your life, depending on your family history.
MYTH: IF YOU TEST NEGATIVE FOR THE BRCA GENE MUTATION, YOU WILL NOT DEVELOP BREAST CANCER.
Most women who get breast cancer do not have a BRCA gene mutation. So just because you test negative does not mean you will not get breast cancer. There are some major limitations to BRCA testing. Plus, there are inherited risk factors other than BRCA mutations that can put you in a high-risk group. For these reasons, you should not use BRCA status as the only indication of having or not having high inherited breast cancer risk.
MYTH: IF YOU TEST NEGATIVE FOR THE BRCA GENE MUTATION, YOU’LL NEVER NEED GENETIC TESTING AGAIN.
New genetic discoveries are being made all of the time. We are discovering new genes that are involved in cancer risk and creating new types of testing that can detect mutations that we couldn’t identify before. It’s very important that you contact your cancer risk healthcare professional annually, to see if there are any new or improved genetic tests available. It’s also important to inform your provider of any new diagnoses of cancers in your family. That new information may provide a clue that you should be tested for a different gene.
MYTH: ABNORMAL BREAST CANCER GENES CAN ONLY BE INHERITED FROM YOUR MOTHER’S SIDE OF THE FAMILY.
In fact, abnormal BRCA genes can come from either your father’s or your mother’s side of the family. So if there’s a history of breast cancer or other cancers on either side of the family, you may have an increased risk.
MYTH: YOU HAVE TO HAVE GENETIC TESTING TO BE CONSIDERED “HIGH RISK”
Genetic testing is only one way to determine whether you have high inherited risk. Some people can’t have or don’t want to have genetic testing. That’s okay. Your cancer risk healthcare provider can still make recommendations and discuss risk-reducing options. Even if you decide not to get genetic testing, it’s extremely important that you talk to your healthcare provider about your family history and cancer risk.