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Testing for Breast Cancer

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testing-for-breast-cancer-headerWho should get the BRCA test?

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and the perfect time to make sure as moms you are doing all you can to take care of yourself. There has been plenty of talk about testing and what kind of testing is right to do depending on individual risk factors.

The BRCA test (to determine if a woman has the gene for breast cancer or ovarian cancer) has been talked about a lot in the news lately, but it’s not necessary for everyone.

We got the scoop from Dr. Adam Ofer, a leading women’s health physician who has spoken about this on the Today show and Access Hollywood Live, to find out just who should get the BRCA test.

When it comes to determining who should get the BRCA test, “guidelines are very specific and complex per NCCN [National Comprehensive Cancer Network],” says Dr. Ofer. That said, he notes that women can follow good generalizations to determine if they are among the women who should get the BRCA test.

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One significant risk factor for breast cancer is family history, and not just history of breast cancer, but others as well (see below). Since, according to Dr. Ofer, only 30 percent of women know their full family cancer history, he suggests brushing up on yours.

“This Thanksgiving, talk around the table about your family's cancer family history and write it down so you can bring it to your next health examination.” Okay, maybe not the first table conversation you can think of having, but an important one for sure. It’s imperative to go way back, too. Dr. Ofer says to consider all relatives up to the third degree, meaning, up to your great grandparents. And, if you think you are at risk, it’s a must to go to your physician or a genetic counselor.

General Guidelines for the BRCA Test

According to women’s health expert, Dr. Adam Ofer, these are guiding principles for who should be tested.

  • Early- as in someone in the family had or has cancer under the age of 50, particularly breast, ovarian, pancreatic or prostate cancers.
  • Multiple- This means that either one relative had or has more than one of the above cancers or that three or more relatives of any age had or has one of the above cancers
  • Rare- Even just one relative with something rare should warrant consideration of testing, such as:
  • Any relative of your parents’ or grandparents’ generation with ovarian cancer (even if there is no breast cancer history in the family).
  • Any male in the family with breast cancer (general population risk of male breast cancer is 1/1,000, but with BRCA mutation it is 8 percent).
  • Triple negative breast cancer, especially under the age of 60 (this type of breast cancer is negative for three common receptors that are tested in the tumor—estrogen, progesterone and HERS—yet tends to be more aggressive).
  • Any relative with breast cancer under the age of 45, plus, people of Ashkenazi Jewish ethnicity (which is most Jewish people in the United States), have a 10-fold increased risk for carrying a BRCA gene (instead of 1/400-1/500 general population risk they have a 1/40 risk!). Therefore, the criteria for testing is very different for people of Jewish heritage. If you are Jewish and have just one relative (up to third degree) with breast cancer at any age, you and your family should be tested.

As we said, it might not be cancer history talk might not be the most scintillating conversation, but can definitely be a potentially lifesaving one. For the latest tips and info on women’s health, please Like Dr. Adam Ofer on Facebook at Facebook.com/DoctorAdamOfer or follow @DrAdamOfer on Twitter.

And for more info and info on women’s lifestyle and well being, check out poshmom.com.

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