Discover Genetic Testing This Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Over 35 years ago, much before I was married, a friend of my mother’s was diagnosed with breast cancer. At the time, advancements in cancer treatment hadn’t made the same inroads as they have now; even then, the lady in question beat the disease, and is still going strong even today! Equipped with knowledge, awareness and tools, you can beat breast cancer too. It may sound clichéd, but early detection is the key!
Breast Cancer: Statistics
According to the WHO (World Health Organization), breast cancer is the most frequent cancer found in women, impacting over 2.1 million women each year. It is also responsible for the greatest number of cancer-related deaths. In India, there are increasing incidences of breast cancer in women in their 30s and 40s. Research data about statistics within the country is scattered, but a 2018 survey recorded 1,62,468 cases of breast cancer among women of all ages.
Breast Cancer: Genetic Testing
While self-examinations for lumps, mammograms, annual health check-ups and even preventive mastectomies (thanks to Angelina Jolie!) are commonly recommended, there is another tool that can be used – genetic testing.
Genetic testing involves tracing your family’s genetic makeup, and using it to analyse whether you will be prone to specific diseases since you’ve inherited those genes. So, a blood test to rule out – or factor in –breast cancer genes (BRCA1 or BRCA2) will be conducted. If the test is negative, it means the gene hasn’t been identified. If the test is positive, it means you have a genetic mutation that increases the risk of breast cancer, as well as ovarian cancer. Once this happens, it is wise to discuss your options with your doctor, to decide what course of preventive action to take.
Breast Cancer: Early Detection & Prevention
While it is recommended that everyone over the age of 30 tests themselves for genetic mutations, people who should especially opt for it include those who have 2 or more blood relatives with pre-menopausal breast or ovarian cancer. Ideally, testing the women in your family who have cancer, will also allow you to determine if there is a known genetic mutation within their bodies, thereby alerting future generations of women who share those genes.
Note, while genetic testing can help you make informed decisions about your healthcare and prevention of cancer, it has its limitations. If you don’t have the gene, it doesn’t mean you’ll never get breast cancer. Similarly, if you do, it doesn’t mean you will get it for sure. It simply highlights your risk factors based on genetics. Secondly, scientists have not necessarily discovered every single gene that is related to breast cancer, so they can only test for what is known.