BRCA's Daughter

Statistics say that every year one in eight women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, but for the children, especially the daughters, of the approximately 252,710 women diagnosed with breast cancer (again, there is a completely different statistic. Although only about 13% of women that are diagnosed with breast cancer have a family history of it - mother, sister, or daughter), their risk is also 3-4 times higher than the “average” woman. In most cases, the younger the relative was when they were diagnosed, the higher her chances of being diagnosed with breast cancer are.

 

 

    This is something I was aware of from a young age, ut planned on avoiding until I was 28. Why 28 you may be asking? Well, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at 38 and for health purposes, it is encouraged that women with a family history of breast cancer begin getting mammograms at 25 or 10 years younger than their relative was when they were diagnosed. That all changed for me a few months ago, though, when I went to go get an IUD inserted and they wouldn’t do anything to me until I went to a high risk specialist. All because my mother was under 40 when she was diagnosed which has left me with twice the risk of having the BRCA mutation. I am BRCA’s daughter and there are millions of other girls out there just like me.

 

 

    As I sit here writing this, I’m thinking of the folder in my bag filled with a packet for genetic testing - a packet that I have been carrying around for nearly a month now, too afraid to send in. But I also think of those other girls, girls just like me, but not as privileged as I am. I get to find out if I have the BRCA mutation so I can make changes to my lifestyle and have breast exams and imaging taken every six months for the rest of my life. I get to be a step above early detection and that alone could save my life if those results come back positive. But there are so many other women out there right now that have similar family history as me, but cannot afford the health care or the test and have to live with not knowing and if they’re diagnosed, may not be able to afford treatment. That is why I’m writing this, not because I want to, because I promise you it is not easy, but because early detection is key and if I can help educate some young girl out there then I have done my part.

 

 

    Now, you may be wondering what I mean when I keep saying “BRCA mutation.” Basically there is BRCA-1 (BReast CAncer gene one) and BRCA-2 (BReast CAncer gene two) and about 5-10% of breast cancers can be linked to these genes mutating. Before we get any further, I would just like to point out that everyone has these genes - the point of them is to repair cell damage and keep breast, ovarian, and other cells growing normally. However, sometimes these genes can contain mutations that are passed down from generations and they don’t function normally which in turn increases your likelihood of being diagnosed with breast, ovarian, or other types of cancers and about 10% (1 in 10) of breast cancer is a result of a mutation in either BRCA-1 or BRCA-2. If you have a family history of breast, ovarian, or other cancers your chances of having a mutation are 50%, it does not matter if the history of breast cancer is on your mother or father’s side.

 

 

    You are more likely to have the gene if:

 

  • You have blood relatives on either side of your family that were diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 50

  • There is both breast and ovarian cancer on the same side of the family or in one individual

  • You have relative(s) with triple-negative breast cancer

  • There is a history of other cancers in your family (i.e. prostate, melanoma, uterine, colon, etc.)

  • Women in your family have had cancer in both breasts

  • You are of Ashkenazi Jewish (Eastern Europe) heritage

  • There is a known abnormal breast cancer gene in your family

 

If you fit into any of these, there are things you can do to try and lower your risk:

 

  • Maintain a healthy weight

  • Exercise regularly

  • Limit alcohol

  • Eat nutritious food

  • Don’t smoke (or quit if you already do)

 

There are also hormonal therapy medicines that you can take such as Tamoxifen, Evista, Aromasin, and Arimidex; however, they do not reduce the risk of hormone-receptor negative breast cancer. In addition to that, you can also get more frequent screenings. You can do a monthly self breast exam, receive yearly breast exams from your doctor, a digital mammogram starting at age 30, as well as an MRI scan done every year also starting at the age of 30. Talk to your doctor about options you may have as well as if you qualify for genetic testing if you’re interested in knowing. Since 2008, worldwide breast cancer incidence have increased by more than 20% and mortality has increased by 14%. Although, there is no cure as of now, there is still early detection and that alone can make all the difference.

 

 

You can also estimate your risk for breast cancer here even if you don’t know your family history, but knowing your family history will give you more accurate results. If you do not believe you have a family history of breast cancer, you can check out last year’s article since you are most likely at an average risk.

Men can get breast cancer too, although it is not as common. If you are a man, you can get more information here.

 

 

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