What Role Does Heredity Play In The Diagnosis Of Breast Cancer?

Question asked by Kristie Naines: Hi. My name is Kristie Naines and I was diagnosed with breast cancer four-and-a-half years ago. I was wondering, what role does heredity play in being diagnosed with breast cancer?

Answer from Len Lichtenfeld, M.D.: Heredity does play a role in some breast cancers. We know that about 5 to 10 percent of the breast cancers diagnosed in the United States have a hereditary component -- and maybe even more; maybe our science isn't good enough to know the exact number.

The gene that we commonly associate with hereditary breast cancer is called BRCA. And women who are at high risk of BRCA should know about their risk and should get a genetic test that might help them find out whether or not they have this particular gene. If they do have this gene, then they should talk to their doctors about what they could be doing to reduce their risk of breast cancer.

It remains possible that, as our science improves, we may find other genes that account for some of the hereditary breast cancer cases; but as of right now, the primary gene that we're familiar with, and the one that's best known by doctors and patients, is called BRCA. So if you have a history of breast cancer in your family, talk to your doctor about finding out what your risk is, and consider getting a BRCA test.

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