Two genes are associated with the risk of having hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. The genes are BRCA1 and BRCA2. Here are things to know about this condition and factors you might be able to control if you have learned of this gene mutation in your family.
BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes help repair DNA and regulate cell growth. A mutation in these genes often means that a person is at significant increased risk for genetic breast and ovarian cancer. These genes can be inherited paternally or maternally and cause 10 to 15 percent of all breast and ovarian cancer cases.
Surgeries can reduce the risk for either breast or ovarian cancer. Bilateral mastectomies, popularized by Angelina Jolie, removes breast tissue from both breasts and can reduce breast cancer risk by more than 90 percent. Salpingo-oophorectomy removes the ovaries and fallopian tubes and can reduce ovarian cancer risk by around 90 percent. If this surgery is done before menopause, breast cancer risk may decline 50 percent.
Research has shown that prolonged use of birth control pills for three years can result in a 30 to 50 percent decreased likelihood of developing ovarian cancer.
Carrying a full-term pregnancy before the age of 26 is linked to a lower risk of ovarian cancer. With each full-term pregnancy, the risk decreases. However, women who have their first full-term pregnancy after age 35 or who have never carried a pregnancy to term have a higher risk of ovarian cancer. Breastfeeding also reduces the risk further.
If you know anybody in your family who has had breast or ovarian cancer, it’s important to get tested for the BRCA gene mutation and get regular screenings to be proactive about your health. Finding out if you’re at risk early can give you the time you need to think about reducing your risk and early testing can increase the chance of being free of cancer