Is Breast Cancer In Your Genes? The Role of Hereditary Factors in Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed forms of cancer among women worldwide. While research has unraveled the role of certain lifestyle factors, such as diet, alcohol consumption, and smoking, in the development of breast cancer, little is known about the role of hereditary factors in this disease. A significant proportion of breast cancer patients and survivors report a family history of this cancer. So, is breast cancer in your genes? Here’s what research says.
Breast Cancer and Genetics
Breast cancer is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Genetic factors can be divided into two categories – hereditary and somatic. Hereditary factors are mutations in specific genes that are passed from one generation to the next through family members. The two main genes that are known to be associated with hereditary breast cancer are BRCA1 and BRCA2. These genes produce proteins that suppress the growth of tumors. Mutations in these genes can lead to the development of tumors, including breast cancer, in both men and women.
On the other hand, somatic mutations occur later in life and are caused by environmental factors such as radiation exposure, smoking, and certain chemical exposures. These mutations are not hereditary and cannot be passed from one generation to another.
The Role of Hereditary Factors in Breast Cancer
Hereditary factors account for approximately 5-10% of all reported breast cancer cases. Women who inherit mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes have a much higher risk of developing breast cancer than those without these mutations. According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, women with a BRCA1 mutation have a 72% lifetime risk of developing breast cancer while those with a BRCA2 mutation have a 69% risk of developing the disease. These risks are higher than the 12% lifetime risk of breast cancer for the general population.
Other genes that have been linked to hereditary breast cancer include TP53, CDH1, and PTEN. Mutations in these genes are much less common than mutations in BRCA genes but can also increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer.
The Diagnosis of Hereditary Breast Cancer
If you have a family history of breast cancer, your healthcare provider may recommend genetic testing to determine whether you have any mutations that elevate your risk of developing breast cancer. Genetic testing involves analyzing a DNA sample to look for changes in specific genes associated with hereditary cancer syndromes.
If a woman tests positive for a BRCA or other gene mutation, her healthcare provider may recommend a range of options, including prophylactic surgery (removal of healthy breasts to lower the risk of developing breast cancer), increased surveillance (such as annual mammograms, MRI scans, and breast exams), and chemo-prevention (the use of medications such as tamoxifen to lower the risk of developing breast cancer).
Though lifestyle factors play an important role in breast cancer, genetics also play a crucial role in the development of this disease. It is important for women who have a family history of breast cancer to undergo genetic testing to determine whether they carry mutations in specific genes associated with hereditary breast cancer. Understanding the role of genetics in breast cancer can help women make informed decisions about their health and take steps to reduce their risk of developing this life-threatening disease.