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What You Need to Know about Hereditary Breast Cancer

06 Apr, 2023

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Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers affecting women worldwide. While many cases of breast cancer are sporadic, meaning they occur without a clear cause, some women may have a higher risk of developing breast cancer due to inherited genetic mutations. In this blog, we will explore hereditary breast cancer and what you need to know about this condition.

What is Hereditary Breast Cancer?

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Hereditary breast cancer is breast cancer that is caused by genetic mutations that are passed down through families. These mutations can increase a woman's risk of developing breast cancer, as well as other types of cancer such as ovarian cancer. The most common genes associated with hereditary breast cancer are BRCA1 and BRCA2. These genes normally help prevent cancer by producing proteins that help suppress the growth of abnormal cells. However, certain mutations in these genes can prevent them from functioning properly, increasing the risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Hereditary breast cancer is relatively rare, accounting for only 5-10% of all breast cancer cases. However, women who carry these genetic mutations have a much higher risk of developing breast cancer than women who do not have these mutations.

Who is at Risk for Hereditary Breast Cancer?

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Not all women with a family history of breast cancer have hereditary breast cancer. However, the risk of developing the condition is higher for women who have:

  • A close family member (parent, sibling, or child) who has had breast or ovarian cancer
  • Multiple family members on one side of the family who have had breast or ovarian cancer
  • Family members who were diagnosed with breast cancer at a young age (before age 50)
  • Family members who were diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer
  • A family member who has tested positive for a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation

Women who are of Ashkenazi Jewish descent also have a higher risk of carrying a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation.

What are the Symptoms of Hereditary Breast Cancer?

The symptoms of hereditary breast cancer are similar to those of non-hereditary breast cancer. These symptoms may include:

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  • A lump or mass in the breast
  • Breast pain or tenderness
  • Changes in the shape or size of the breast
  • Nipple discharge or retraction
  • Skin changes, such as redness or thickening

However, it's important to note that not all women with hereditary breast cancer will experience symptoms. This is why regular breast cancer screening is important for women who are at higher risk.

How is Hereditary Breast Cancer Diagnosed?

  1. Hereditary breast cancer is diagnosed through genetic testing. This testing can determine whether a woman has a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, which can help determine her risk of developing breast cancer.
  2. Genetic testing is usually recommended for women who have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, particularly if multiple family members have been affected or if the family member was diagnosed at a young age.
  3. If a woman is found to have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, she may choose to undergo additional screening and preventative measures to reduce her risk of developing breast cancer.

How is Hereditary Breast Cancer Treated?

The treatment for hereditary breast cancer is similar to the treatment for non-hereditary breast cancer. Treatment options may include:

  • Surgery: Surgery is often the first line of treatment for breast cancer. Women with hereditary breast cancer may choose to have a lumpectomy or a mastectomy, depending on the size and location of the tumor.
  • Radiation Therapy: Radiation therapy may be used after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells.
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy may be used to kill cancer cells that have spread beyond the breast.
  • Hormone Therapy: Hormone therapy may be used to prevent the growth of hormone receptor-positive breast cancer.

In addition to these standard treatments, women with hereditary breast cancer may also choose to undergo prophylactic surgery to reduce their risk of developing breast cancer. This may include prophylactic mastectomy (removal of both breasts) or prophylactic oophorectomy (removal of both ovaries).Women with hereditary breast cancer may also choose to participate in clinical trials to help develop new treatments for the condition.

What Can You Do to Reduce Your Risk of Hereditary Breast Cancer?

If you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing hereditary breast cancer:

  1. Talk to Your Doctor: If you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, talk to your doctor about your risk and whether genetic testing may be appropriate for you.
  2. Get Regular Breast Cancer Screening: Women who are at higher risk of breast cancer should get regular mammograms and breast exams to help detect cancer early.
  3. Consider Risk-Reducing Surgery: Women who have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation may choose to undergo prophylactic surgery to reduce their risk of developing breast cancer.
  4. Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle: Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and avoiding tobacco and excessive alcohol consumption, may help reduce your risk of developing breast cancer.
  5. Consider Genetic Counselling: Genetic counseling can help you understand your risk of hereditary breast cancer and make informed decisions about testing and treatment options.

Conclusion

Hereditary breast cancer is a rare but serious condition that can increase a woman's risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. Women who have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer should talk to their doctor about their risk and consider genetic testing to determine whether they have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation. While there is no sure way to prevent hereditary breast cancer, women can take steps to reduce their risk, including getting regular breast cancer screening, considering prophylactic surgery, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. By understanding hereditary breast cancer and taking steps to reduce its risk, women can protect their health and ensure that they receive the best possible care if they develop breast cancer.

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Hereditary breast cancer is a type of breast cancer that is caused by inherited gene mutations, most commonly the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. This type of breast cancer accounts for approximately 5-10% of all breast cancer cases.