With new medical advances, genetic testing has become a more common occurrence to determine if certain diseases are hereditary. In regards to breast cancer, 5-10 percent of all breast cancer incidents are due to genetic defects or mutations.

The genetic defect that has acquired the most media attention and is most often the culprit in hereditary cases of breast cancer is a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. A mutation in the BRCA1 gene increases the risk of developing breast cancer to 80% whereas a mutation in the BRCA2 gene increases the risk of developing breast cancer to 60%. It is also possible that BRCA mutations can increase a person’s risk of developing other cancers such as ovarian and pancreatic cancer. Breast cancer can develop as a result of non-genetic factors but breast cancer due to BRCA mutations typically manifests in both breasts and arises at a younger age.

In some cases when there is a strong family history of breast cancer, a person may choose to undergo genetic testing to see if they have a mutation in either of the BRCA genes. Although the results of any genetic test can be helpful, there is a significant cost associated and it may not always be the correct choice. Genetic counseling is commonly urged when any genetic test for hereditary cancer is desired as the implications of the results can be serious. A positive result indicates that the patient has a negative mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, increasing their risk of developing certain cancers. However, this mutation is only indicative of increased risk and cannot guarantee whether or not the patient will actually develop cancer.

For women who test positive for mutations in BRCA1 or BRCA2, it may be suggested to begin breast cancer screenings at younger ages as well as more often than recommended. Early detection increases the chances of treating breast cancer successfully. A more aggressive approach to a positive test result is a prophylactic mastectomy. This involves surgically removing the breast tissue to drastically reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. Following mastectomy, most women desire to proceed with breast reconstruction. Dr. Kim is a premier breast reconstruction surgeon that treats women who decide to undergo prophylactic mastectomies due to genetic mutations.

If you are concerned about hereditary breast cancer, speak to your healthcare provider and schedule a consultation with Dr. Kim today!