How Climbing Your Family Tree Can Help You Prevent Breast Cancer
Did you know?
5-10% of all breast cancers are hereditary. That may not seem like a huge number, but think about it this way:
- According to a 2011-2012 Cancer.org research study, there are 2.6 million breast cancer survivors in North America. So simply put, up to 260,000 cases of breast cancer were heredity-linked. Doesn’t seem like such a small percentage anymore.
Since the best treatment for breast cancer is early detection, here is what you can do to protect yourself:
1. Start digging through old photo albums and identifying some of the mystery faces.
2. Track down your family’s ancestor tracker (if you have one) and get as much information from them as you can.
3. Find out how each of your family members has died in the last 4-5 generations (or as far back as you can go). Of those who died of cancer or other serious diseases, find out their age at diagnosis and death.
Now that you have some background information, how does this help you?
You should start getting tested 10 years prior to the earliest diagnosis date.
ex: If your great grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 45, you should book your first mammogram no later then your 35th birthday (for those with no history of breast cancer in their family the recommended age for mammograms is 40).
What is the BRCA (pronounced bra-ka) gene and how does it effect me?
Testing for the BRCA gene is a highly controversial issue that has been the source of many debates, even extending into TV programming, such as 90210.
The BRCA gene is a gene mutation that indicates a higher risk of breast cancer in women. It is hereditary and can be tested for. Websites like https://www.23andme.com/
can provide some information, but speaking with your doctor is always the best course of action.
The pros of getting tested:
- Catching the BRCA mutation early can give you the option to save your life.
- Knowing you have a higher risk of breast cancer will allow you to take the natural steps to improve your life and your health and give you a stronger reason to do so.
- Knowledge is power.
- Not every carrier of the BRCA gene gets cancer and some women are doing unnecessary surgeries.
- Knowing you have a higher risk of breast cancer causes escalated stress and life-threatening fear.
So before you get tested make sure you know what you are getting into and how you plan to handle the information once it is in your hands. And remember: the only person who can make qualified decisions with this complex information is a physician. So take his/her opinion and don’t hesitate to get another one.
Remember: Breast cancer can happen to everyone, but has a higher chance in some:
-Two red flags:
(1) Being of Eastern European descent, and/or
(2) having breast and ovarian cancer in your family history.
American Cancer Society. Breast Cancer Facts and Figures 2011-2012.