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Genetic Counseling

The majority of breast cancers are sporadic breast cancers, caused by largely unknown factors.  Sporadic breast cancers typically have no additional family history of breast cancer and are diagnosed at a later age.  These cancers do not significantly increase the risk of other family members developing breast cancer. 

Some breast cancers are diagnosed at a younger age (typically under 50) or diagnosed when there is also a family history of breast cancer.  In these families, relatives are at a higher risk to develop breast cancer and may qualify for additional cancer prevention screening options, such as breast MRI screening or preventive surgeries.  The American Cancer Society recommends annual breast MRI screening in addition to annual mammography for women with a lifetime risk of developing breast cancer greater than 20% (Saslow et al., 2007).  To discuss your specific risk of breast cancer, please contact a genetic counselor. 

Approximately, 5-10% of breast cancers are hereditary, meaning caused by an altered gene being passed down through the family (mom or dad’s side).  The most common altered genes that cause hereditary breast cancer are BRCA1 and BRCA2, more commonly known as “the breast cancer genes.”  It is important to know if your breast cancer was caused by a BRCA gene because it may change the type of surgery you choose and help provide information regarding your future cancer risks and cancer risks for your family members.  Women with BRCA alterations qualify for increased cancer prevention options (increased screening, preventive surgeries or medications) for breast and ovarian cancer.  Knowing this information, you and your physician can develop a plan to prevent these cancers. The only way to know if your cancer was caused by a genetic predisposition is by undergoing genetic testing. 

The following are “red flags” that your cancer or the cancer in your family may be caused by a BRCA gene:

The list of resources below can help you find additional information and/or contact a certified genetic counselor (CGC) in your area to help you determine if your cancer is hereditary or to discuss cancer risks and available prevention strategies for you and your family members. 

Use the Search Tool below to find a certified genetic counselor in your area.


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