Recent advances in the research of genomics (the study of the functions of genes), and genetics (the study of genes and heredity) are revealing methods for predicting a person’s susceptibility to many diseases and disorders. Suspect BRCA gene mutations if your family has a high incidence of cancer.
When healthy, breast genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 act as tumor suppressors. Mutations in these genes significantly raise the possibilities of getting breast cancer. BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations can be inherited by both men and women—but the risk of breast cancer among men in much smaller. Among women, both BRCA mutations can raise the possibility of breast cancer up to 85%. But BRCA1 is harder to treat and doesn’t respond to the same hormone therapies as BRCA2. This is undoubtedly why actress, Angelina Jolie, underwent a double mastectomy when doctors discovered a mutation of the BRCA1 gene. Before her surgery, doctors predicted that she had about an 87% chance of developing breast cancer. This was reduced to around 4% after surgery.
Unlike the above, PALB2 is a germline mutation and is not specific to breast cancer. It can also increase the susceptibility to pancreatic and ovarian cancers. But, partnering with BRCA2, it can increase the risk of breast cancer up to 8 or 9 times for those under 40, 6 to 8 times for those between 40 and 60, and 5 times for women over 60.
If you or a loved one suspect a problem, get tested. Testing for a genetic mutation is a simple process. A blood sample is taken and sent to the appropriate lab for analysis. It can cost from around $300 to more than $5000 depending on the extent of the test. Be sure to check to see if it is covered by your insurance. Under current law you cannot be turned down or discriminated against because of a pre-existing condition.