When faced with a breast cancer or ovarian cancer diagnosis, many women ask: “Is there a genetic link?”
For women with a personal or family history of breast or ovarian cancer, this question may be even more relevant. In recent years, researchers have discovered that harmful gene mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes may increase a person’s risk for breast, ovarian and other cancers in both women and men.
The good news is that there are now proven interventions to both lower cancer risk and optimize chances for early cancer diagnosis for those who are aware they carry this risk. Through the process of genetic testing, usually performed as a blood test, these genes can be examined. And, if a mutation in either BRCA1 or BRCA2 is discovered, women and men can take a proactive approach to preventive care and screening. Those who may already have cancer may receive personalized treatments based on those test results.
Discussing the presence of genetic risk for cancer with the family can sometimes raise challenging issues. Some people don’t want to upset their relatives or they feel it’s not the right time to tell a relative. And, others don’t know how to bring it up.
Who to tell you have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutationFor people who have tested positive for a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, the first and foremost thing to do is give yourself time to come to terms with what these test results mean to you. When you feel you are able, it may be important to consider a strategy for sharing this personal information with relatives in order to provide them with potentially lifesaving information. Often relevant people in the family to tell include:
- Adult children
- Parents, aunts, uncle
- Anyone with a parent who has/had a related form of cancer
How to tell a family member you have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutationFind out how much your relative knows about the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations. Be ready to share some general information about how BRCA1 or BRCA2 can affect someone’s risk for developing certain kinds of cancer.
Start by sharing that you have been found to carry this genetic risk and that there are things family members can do to lower their own risk of cancer and improve their odds of early diagnosis.
- Genetic information can be hard to understand so avoid medical terminology.
- Only share your personal opinion about what to do if asked.
- Provide printed information – printed information is available through the Cancer Risk Evaluation Program.
- Communicate directly whenever possible, either in person, on the phone, or even electronically. Even a letter is a good way to let others know.
- Don’t just give information, listen as well.
You may suggest family members and friends get information for themselves from a qualified expert in cancer genetics. It’s important to tailor your communication to the individual. You know best how a relative may react to this news.
Sharing can save a lifeThere are some things you can plan for and some things you can’t. Knowing about genetic risk for cancer informs someone about things you can do to improve your chances for good health. Knowing your genetic risk for cancer and family history can help you make informed decisions about screening, prevention and sometimes tailored treatments or therapies. .
Sharing information about risk can be lifesaving. When you tell a family member about your increased genetic risk, you are empowering them to learn more about their own health and make their own informed decisions about health care.
Ask for help – genetic counselors at the Mariann and Robert MacDonald Cancer Risk Evaluation Program can provide you with information and support to help you communicate with your loved ones. They can also help identify local cancer genetics experts if your relatives do not live in the area.
To make an appointment with one of our genetic counselors or to be seen though the Cancer Risk Evaluation Program please contact Jonathon Colon at 215-349-9093.
View presentations from the 2011 Focus On Your Risk of Breast and Ovarian Cancer Conference.
The Basser Research Center to Focus on BRCA1 and BRCA2
The Basser Research Center
— BRC for BRCA — supports research on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes,
harmful forms of which are linked to greatly increased risks of
developing breast and ovarian cancer. The Center is named in honor of
Mindy Gray’s sister, Faith Basser, who died of ovarian cancer at age 44.
The Basser Research Center was established with a $25 million gift to the University of Pennsylvania from alumni Mindy and Jon Gray.
Emphasizing outreach, prevention, early detection, treatment and survivorship, the Basser Research Center will contribute to all stages of research and clinical care related to BRCA-related cancers.
Learn more about the Basser Research Center.