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What You Need to Know About the Breast Cancer Gene

dealing with cancer

The unfortunate reality is that you could be making all the right choices, eating all the right foods, and living a healthy lifestyle, but still end up dealing with cancer someday. Since the discovery of the breast cancer genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, in the 1990s, researchers have concluded that between 5% and 10% of breast cancers are hereditary. And a parent with abnormal genes like these will likely pass them on to his or her child.

Your genes are like an instruction manual for your body’s cell growth, making abnormalities in DNA the equivalent of typographical errors. Since cancer is caused by out-of-control cell growth, scientists have long suspected there was a genetic cause to some cancers. While everyone has both BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, some people inherit abnormalities or mutations in one or both of those genes.

The function of BRCA genes is to facilitate the repair and normal growth of breast and ovarian cells. If there is an abnormality, the genes don’t function properly, increasing the risk of cancer. However, having an abnormal BRCA gene does not mean that you will necessarily develop breast cancer, only that the odds aren't in your favor.

Additionally, if one family member has the abnormal gene, it is not indicative that all members of the family will have it too. Researchers say that you are more likely to have the abnormal breast cancer gene if any of the following are true:

  • Blood relatives on either side of your family were diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 50.
  • One side of your family has had cases of both breast and ovarian cancer.
  • You have at least one blood relative with triple-negative breast cancer.
  • One side of your family has had cases of breast cancer in addition to another type of cancer
  • A male blood relative has been diagnosed with breast cancer.
  • You are of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage.

The average woman in the U.S. has a 12% chance of developing breast cancer in her lifetime. That is why breast cancer screening is so important for women of all ages. Mammography screening every two years (which is covered by health insurance) for women between the ages of 65 and 74 has been proven to reduce breast cancer-related deaths.

This disease may be written in your DNA, but instead of waiting and assuming that someday you will be dealing with cancer, find out more about how to reduce your risk. You can also be proactive in getting coverage to help with the costs of treatment. For those people with Medicare, a Medicare Supplement Insurance or Medigap policy can help with some of the costs.



U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The State of Aging and Health in America (SAHA)

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