Should I Have Genetic Testing for Breast Cancer?

Genetic testing is the examination of DNA, which is done to determine changes or mutations in your genes that may cause an illness or disease, like breast cancer.

While anyone can self-refer for genetic testing, Courtney Rice MS, a Licensed Genetic Counselor at TriHealth, explains who genetic testing could benefit and how it works.

Genetic Testing: A Family Affair

“We try to start the genetic testing with the person who’s had cancer in the family, first,” Courtney points out.

If a woman comes in for her mammogram and decides she wants to have genetic testing, Courtney encourages this individual to bring in any other relatives who may be interested, so they can meet as a group to discuss family history. “I would offer the testing to the person who has either had the cancer or would be at the highest risk of carrying that gene [mutation]. We try to start testing with the person who is most likely to be informative for the other family members.”

Genetic Testing: 5 Questions to Ask Yourself

Hereditary types of breast cancer make up about five to 10 percent of all breast cancer diagnoses, Courtney explains.

For this reason, she says asking the following questions is helpful in determining if you would be good candidate for genetic testing, and possibly, genetic counseling:

  • Do you have a family member who was diagnosed with breast cancer when they were 50 or younger?
  • Are there three or more women on the same side of the family that have had breast cancer?
  • Is there a male in your family who had breast cancer?
  • Does your family have a history of related cancers that are genetically linked? (breast and ovarian cancer, for example)
  • Are there any women in your family who also have Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry?

“In women who have Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry, it’s known, from several studies of high-risk families, that there is a higher prevalence of BRCA gene mutations in that population,” Courtney points out. “So, by default, we use that as another way to screen families who are of Jewish ancestry. Plus, if there’s been a breast cancer in that family, that puts that person at a little higher risk of carrying the predisposition.”

If your family does show a strong history of being genetically predisposed to developing breast cancer (you answered “yes” to one or more of the questions listed above), you would schedule a dual visit with a genetic counselor and a nurse practitioner. During your visit, your care team would determine whether you qualify for genetic testing.

Does Genetic Testing Identify Breast Cancer?

It’s important to remember that the results of a genetic test only determine if you are at a higher risk for developing cancer. “If the results come back abnormal, it means you have inherited a higher risk for breast cancer, or possibly, other cancers, so you would need to meet with a genetic counselor,” Courtney explains.

From there, a genetic counselor would suggest the appropriate extra screenings you could have to watch for cancer more closely, and recommend possible lifestyle changes you could make to help prevent breast cancer developing down the road.

Only a mammogram, breast MRI or ultrasound, or other further testing can identify breast cancer.  

Tags Cancer , Women's Health