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Is Breast Cancer Passed Down Genetically

What To Do If You’re Worried

What is Gene Positive Breast Cancer?

Speak to a GP if cancer runs in your family and you’re worried you may get it too. They may refer you to a local genetics service for an NHS genetic test, which will tell you if you have inherited one of the cancer risk genes.

This type of testing is known as predictive genetic testing. It’s “predictive” because a positive result means you have a greatly increased risk of developing cancer. It does not mean you have cancer or are definitely going to develop it.

You may be eligible for this NHS test if the faulty gene has already been identified in one of your relatives, or if there is a strong family history of cancer in your family.

Can Cancer Be Passed Down

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Genetic Testing For Breast Cancer At Roswell Park

Our board-certified genetic counselors can help determine whether you should undergo genetic screening, arrange for testing, and explain what the results mean for you and your family. Our Genetics team provides:

  • Genetic counseling to help you understand the biology and genetics of cancer
  • Construction of your genetic pedigree to look for patterns that may show an increased risk for cancer
  • Orders for genetic testing
  • Explanation of your test results. We will discuss your options for reducing your risk, surveillance and screening going forward

To request an appointment for genetic consultation, call 1-800-ROSWELL .

Request an Appointment

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What Is A Gene

Each persons DNA contains the code used to build the human body and keep it functioning. Genes are the small sections of DNA that code for individual traits. For example, someone with naturally red hair has a gene that causes his or her hair to be red.

All inherited traits are passed down through genes. Each person has two copies of every gene: one gene from each parent. Since each parent passes down exactly half of their genes to each child, any of the parents genetic traits has a 50% chance of being passed on to their offspring.

Having A Family History Of Breast Cancer

Breaking down the genetics of breast cancer

Its important to note that most women who get breast cancer do not have a family history of the disease. But women who have close blood relatives with breast cancer have a higher risk:

  • Having a first-degree relative with breast cancer almost doubles a womans risk. Having 2 first-degree relatives increases her risk by about 3-fold.
  • Women with a father or brother who has had breast cancer also have a higher risk of breast cancer.

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Brca1 And Brca2 Inherited Gene Mutations

Like other inherited gene mutations, BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations are rare in the general population. In the U.S., about 1 in 400 people have a BRCA1/2 mutation .

Prevalence varies by ethnic group. Among Ashkenazi Jewish men and women, about 1 in 40 have a BRCA1/2 mutation .

Learn more about BRCA1/2 mutations.

How Common Are Breast Cancer Gene Mutations

Breast cancer gene mutations arent common in the general population, Dr. Eng says, but they are common in people who have breast cancer. About 10% to 15% of people with breast cancer have one of the breast cancer gene mutations.

You can inherit these gene mutations from either of your biological parents, and the cancers theyre linked to can affect both men and women so consider all your relatives when thinking about your family history.

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Can Cancer Be Passed Down In Families

V.O. Speights, DO, FCAP, was a pathologist at Scott & White Hospital in Temple, Texas. Dr. Speights passed away prior to submitting a final draft of this blog. Sue Chang, MD, FCAP, a practicing pathologist and assistant clinical professor of pathology at the City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center in Duarte, California, edited and finalized the content in his honor.

Theres a member of the health care team who plays a vital role in diagnosing cancer and developing a treatment plan who you may never meet face to face: the pathologist. This is the doctor who analyzes the tissue samples to make the correct diagnosis.

Two pathologists answer questions on why cancer sometimes seems to run in the family and what you need to know about evaluating your own inherited cancer risk.

What Happens If My Test Is Positive For Hereditary Breast Cancer Risk

Testing for Genetic Mutations Linked to Familial Breast Cancer

If testing confirms you are at risk, your care provider can work with you on a plan to safeguard your health, which could include:

  • High-risk evaluation and monitoring
  • Screening schedules, including digital mammography and clinical breast exams
  • Hormonal therapy medications designed to prevent the development of breast cancer

Preventive surgery, such as mastectomy with breast reconstruction, is necessary only for patients at very high risk for aggressive breast cancer.

A comprehensive breast center offers a safe and supportive environment where you can ask questions and get the best answers for you, Ninan says. Every patients decision about how to handle their risk of developing breast cancer is managed with sensitivity and an understanding about the complexity of these decisions.

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Yes You Can Inherit Breast Cancer From Your Father Prostate Cancer From Your Mother And Vice Versa Heres Why

I look most like my dad, and he suffered from a heart attack early in life, so I will likely have a heart attack as well.

I have heard iterations of this statement in many genetic counseling sessions. When our interests, features or characteristics more closely align with one side of our family, its common to feel like we might have also inherited the same health traits and risks for certain diseases from that side of the family. However, we each inherit half of our DNA from each biological parent. Therefore, we are equally as likely to inherit risks for diseases or certain traits from our biological mothers and fathers sides.

As a cancer genetic counselor, I assess family histories for cancer occurrence in order to make an accurate risk assessment for an individual. Some of the clues that could point to a hereditary cancer syndrome in a family include:

  • cancer diagnosed at early ages
  • multiple family members with cancer on the same side of the family
  • family members with cancer in multiple generations on the same side of the family
  • certain types of cancer, such as ovarian or pancreatic
  • certain patterns of cancer within a family such as breast/ovarian/prostate or uterine/colorectal cancer

Even if someone reports a strong family history of colon cancer on their mothers side and that is what they are most concerned about, it is important to collect information regarding cancer history on the individuals fathers side as well.

Support For Hereditary Breast Cancer

Just as people who have been diagnosed with breast cancer need support, those who carry genes that increase risk need support. Fortunately, there are organizations that focus specifically on supporting people in this situation.

One organization, FORCE, which is an acronym for Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered, offers a helpline, message board, and information for those who are facing hereditary cancer.

Other organizations and support communities are available to help people cope with the decisions related to a diagnosis of hereditary breast cancer.

The term “previvor” was coined by FORCE to describe people who are surviving a predisposition to breast cancer. If this is the situation you are facing, you are not alone, and using the hashtag #previvor, you can find many others on Twitter and other social media outlets.

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What Are The Benefits Of Genetic Testing For Brca1 And Brca2 Variants

There can be benefits to genetic testing, regardless of whether a person receives a positive or a negative result.

The potential benefits of a true negative result include a sense of relief regarding the future risk of cancer, learning that one’s children are not at risk of inheriting the family’s cancer susceptibility, and the possibility that special check-ups, tests, or risk-reducing surgeries may not be needed.

A positive test result may allow people to make informed decisions about their future health care, including taking steps to reduce their cancer risk.

Brca1 And Brca2 Genetic Mutations

Have You Inherited a Greater Risk of Breast Cancer?

Most inherited cases of breast cancer are associated with mutations in two genes: BRCA1 and BRCA2 .

Everyone has BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. The function of the BRCA genes is to repair cell damage and keep breast, ovarian, and other cells growing normally. But when these genes contain mutations that are passed from generation to generation, the genes don’t function normally and breast, ovarian, and other cancer risk increases. BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations may account for up to 10% of all breast cancers, or 1 out of every 10 cases.

Having a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation doesn’t mean you will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Researchers are learning that other mutations in pieces of chromosomes called SNPs may be linked to higher breast cancer risk in women with a BRCA1 mutation as well as women who didn’t inherit a breast cancer gene mutation.

Women who are diagnosed with breast cancer and have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation often have a family history of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and other cancers. Still, most people who develop breast cancer did not inherit a genetic mutation linked to breast cancer and have no family history of the disease.

You are substantially more likely to have a genetic mutation linked to breast cancer if:

If one family member has a genetic mutation linked to breast cancer, it does not mean that all family members will have it.

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Ovarian Cancer And Other Cancers

BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations increase a womans risk of ovarian cancer, pancreatic cancer and melanoma .

BRCA1/2 mutations may also increase the risk of other cancers . However, data are limited and these topics are still under study.

For a summary of research studies on BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations and cancer, visit the Breast Cancer Research Studies section.

What Can I Do To Reduce My Risk Of Developing Breast Cancer Or Ovarian Cancer If I Have A Brca Gene Mutation

Risk-reducing surgery

A prophylactic, bilateral mastectomy, which is the preventive surgical removal of both breasts, can lower the risk of breast cancer by more than 90%. Only about 3% of breast cancers associated with BRCA mutations are diagnosed before age 30, so most women with a BRCA mutation could consider surgery after 30. However, bilateral mastectomy is an invasive and irreversible procedure.

A prophylactic salpingo-oophorectomy, which is the preventive surgical removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes, can lower the risk of ovarian cancer by approximately 90%. It may also help lower the risk of breast cancer by 50% for women who have not been through menopause. A special procedure to look for microscopic cancer in the ovaries and fallopian tubes is recommended after this surgery. Deciding whether to have preventive surgery to lower your risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer is a very personal decision. Your health care team and genetic counselor can help you understand the risks and benefits, based on your health, type of BRCA mutation, and family history of cancer.


Taking oral contraceptives, or birth control pills, for 5 years may lower the risk of ovarian cancer for women with BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations by up to 50%. However, this must be balanced by a potential slight increase in the risk of breast cancer. Learn more about risk reduction options in this site’s Ovarian Cancer section.

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How Is Hboc Identified

Mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes can be identified through a blood or saliva test. The usual method of testing, called standard gene sequencing, can find most BRCA mutations. There are other types of mutations called rearrangements, which include deletions or duplications in BRCA1 and BRCA2 that also may cause an increased risk for these cancers. Testing is also available for large rearrangements in BRCA1 and BRCA2.

After initial BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic testing, additional testing may be recommended if:

  • The results were negative, meaning no genetic mutation was detected
  • A variant of uncertain significance was detected, which means that there is a genetic change, but it is not known how that change could affect cancer risk

Talk with your health care team and/or a genetic counselor for more information.

Most, but not all, insurance providers, including Medicare and Medicaid, cover the cost of complete BRCA1 and BRCA2 testing. Many genetic specialists offer multigene panels, which may include 6, 20, 40, or more genes depending on your personal and family history. The multigene panel tests may often be done at the same time as BRCA1 and BRCA2 testing. Talk with your genetic counselor for more information on the type of testing you will have and your insurance coverage before testing begins.

What Are The Signs That I May Have An Inherited Cancer Syndrome

Just Like Nonna Passed Down: Hereditary Cancer Risk

Many times, the first tool in detecting an inherited cancer syndrome is a family history of cancer. Knowing your family history helps your doctor begin to think about whether inherited cancer syndromes may be a possibility. If you have a family member who has already been diagnosed with an inherited cancer syndrome, they may know the specific genetic change that your doctor should consider. The ethnic origin of your ancestors may also play a role in determining which cancers youre more likely to inherit.

Some cancers look a specific way under the microscope as a result of a genetic mutation. If you have cancer, the pathologist analyzing your tissue sample would alert your doctor to the possibility that it may have been inherited. For example, a particular type of thyroid cancer is strongly associated with familial adenomatous polyposis . This genetic condition also significantly increases the risk of cancer in the colon, small intestine, and stomach. Knowing about FAP means that entire families can join screening programs for early detection.

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Can Hboc Be Avoided

There are options available for people with HBOC who are interested in having a child and reducing that childs risk of this hereditary syndrome. Preimplantation genetic diagnosis is a medical procedure done along with in-vitro fertilization . It allows people who carry a specific known genetic mutation to reduce the likelihood that their children will inherit the condition. For PGD, a womans eggs are removed and fertilized in a laboratory. When the embryos reach a certain size, 1 cell is removed and tested for the specific hereditary condition. The parents can then choose to transfer the embryos that do not have the mutation. PGD has been used for over 2 decades for several hereditary cancer syndromes. However, it is a complex procedure with financial, physical, and emotional factors to consider before starting. For more information, talk with an assisted reproduction specialist at a fertility clinic.

How Common Is Familial Melanoma

Most cases of melanoma are sporadic, meaning it occurs by chance. The number of people who have an inherited risk of melanoma is unknown, but the number is thought to be low. It is estimated that about 8% of people with melanoma have a first-degree relative with melanoma and that 1% to 2% of people with melanoma have 2 or more close relatives with melanoma.

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How Much Does An Inherited Harmful Variant In Brca1 Or Brca2 Increase A Womans Risk Of Breast And Ovarian Cancer

A womans lifetime risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer is markedly increased if she inherits a harmful variant in BRCA1 or BRCA2, but the degree of increase varies depending on the mutation.

Breast cancer: About 13% of women in the general population will develop breast cancer sometime during their lives . By contrast, 55%72% of women who inherit a harmful BRCA1 variant and 45%69% of women who inherit a harmful BRCA2 variant will develop breast cancer by 7080 years of age . The risk for any one woman depends on a number of factors, some of which have not been fully characterized.

Like women with breast cancer in general, those with harmful BRCA1 or BRCA2 variants also have an increased risk of developing cancer in the opposite breast in the years following a breast cancer diagnosis . The risk of contralateral breast cancer increases with the time since a first breast cancer, reaching 20%30% at 10 years of follow-up and 40%50% at 20 years, depending on the gene involved.

Ovarian cancer: About 1.2% of women in the general population will develop ovarian cancer sometime during their lives . By contrast, 39%44% of women who inherit a harmful BRCA1 variant and 11%17% of women who inherit a harmful BRCA2 variant will develop ovarian cancer by 7080 years of age .

How Do Hereditary Gene Mutations Raise Cancer Risk

Hereditary Cancers

Many people wonder how exactly an abnormal gene or combinations of genes could lead to breast cancer, and a brief discussion of the biology is helpful in understanding many of the questions, such as why not everyone who has these mutations develops cancer.

Our DNA is a blueprint or code that is used to manufacture proteins. When the map or code is wrong , it gives the wrong directions for synthesizing a protein. The abnormal protein is then unable to perform its usual job. Not all gene mutations raise the risk of cancer, and in fact, most do not. Mutations in genes responsible for the growth and division of cells, or “driver mutations” are what drive the growth of cancers. There are two major types of genes that, when mutated, can lead to uncontrolled growth known as cancer: oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes.

Several of the genes associated with a higher breast cancer risk are tumor suppressor genes. These genes code for proteins that function to repair damage to DNA in cells , serve to eliminate cells that can’t be repaired, or regulate growth in other ways. The genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 are tumor suppressor genes.

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